Childe Hassam

American, 1859 - 1935
One of the most celebrated and well-known of the American impressionists, Hassam created works documenting his wide travels and his inclination toward the picturesque and agreeable aspects of the world around him. He worked as an illustrator early in his career, and the sharp eye he developed in that occupation encouraged him to seek out the pictorial possibilities wherever he went, from the streets of Paris to the shipyards of New England to the deserts of eastern Oregon. His series of flag paintings, which depict the parades proceeding up New York's Fifth Avenue during World War I, are some of the most iconic images in American art. Nocturne is a perfect word to describe both the appearance and the feeling of Childe Hassam’s brilliant pastel, On the Balcony. There is a Whistlerian evocation in its elongated and asymmetrical composition. The subtle treatment of the figure and costume, illuminated by a blend of soft interior and moonlit exterior light contrasts with the hazy density of a still early evening sky while enhancing the dynamic balance of the overall composition. The pastel provides an extraordinary balance between flat pattern, reflecting the contemporary enthusiasm for Japanese prints, and three-dimensional space that extends, almost literally, into infinity. It is Whistlerian in the juxtaposition of the large field of subtly colored sky that counterpoints the equally subtle color harmonies of the sheer gown worn by the woman peering out into the evening sky. The mood is perfect for the subject and reveals an emotional character in Hassam’s work that often lies hidden under the surface energies of his Impressionist vocabulary. This pastel, executed by the artist in France on his extended honeymoon residence in the French capital, undoubtedly depicts his wife Maude, caught in an intimate moment. Hassam combined his intense interest in the effects of light as well as the animated brushwork and vivid color (after the mid-1880s) that typify impressionist painting with a more substantial use of forms and volumes to arrive at his signature style. His works flicker with color and light, but retain a sense of solidity and recognizable space. Whether executed in watercolor, oil or pastel, Hassam's lively landscape scenes capture the scenic appeal of places including Appledore, Cos Cob, Old Lyme, and East Hampton, (where he spent summers); the streets of New York and Paris; and the countryside of Normandy and Brittany. A founding member of the Ten American Painters, Hassam also painted nudes and figural works, including a series of window compositions that combined still-life elements and female figures in interiors silhouetted against views of the New York skyline. The artist's great ingenuity led him to take up etching at age 55, where he concentrated particularly on architectural subjects.
Childe Hassam Paintings
Childe Hassam is internationally recognized as one of the greatest American Impressionist Painters. Hassam apprenticed as a wood engraver and took early work as a freelance illustrator. In 1838 he took the first of four trips to France and took course at Academie Julian from 1886-89. His paintings from this time are of atmospheric effects or rainy days in twilight. During Hassam's second trip, his palette became similar to French Impressionism with lighter and brighter color. From 1890 on Hassam focused on painting NYC scenes. Hassam spent his summers painting floral watercolors of gardens and costal scenes. He moved to East Hampton in 1919. Hassam was a member of "The Ten" and produced over 2,500 paintings. His entire collection was sold by Macbeth and Milch Galleries to establish a fund that would benefit museum collections across the U.S. He died in 1935.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery,
Childe Hassam was the leading force behind "The Ten," the group that established the American Impressionist movement. Born near Boston, Hassam began his career as an illustrator for "Harper's," "Scribner's," and "Century." It was during his first trip to France in 1883 that he began studying the effects of light and atmosphere; on his second trip, he embraced the brighter palette and rapid brushwork of the French Impressionists. Hassam was a prolific painter who won countless awards from the National Academy of Design, the Society of American Artists, the Boston Art Club, and the Carnegie Institute, as well as four World's Fairs. In 1915, the art critic Charles Buchanan praised his technical mastery: "If sheer facility be (as some think) a cardinal virtue, then Mr. Hassam stands, beyond the shadow of a doubt, at the head of American painting. In his characteristic way, he is incomparable."Hassam's paintings can be found in major collections throughout the United States and Europe, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Musee d'Orsay.

Biography courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC,
Hassam was born on October 17, 1859, in Dorchester, Massachusetts and died on August 27, 1935, in Easthampton, N.Y. He was in Cos Cob periodically, 1894-1923; in Old Lyme, summers, 1903-c.1907.

Childe Hassam (he did not use his first name, Frederick) was the son of a prosperous Boston merchant and collector of American antiques. Soon after high school he went to work for a wood-engraver, producing business letterheads and newspaper mastheads. Later he worked as an illustrator, creating popular work for periodicals such as Harper's and Scribner's. He studied art at the Lowell Institute and took an evening life-class at the Boston Arts Club before studying painting privately with I. M. Gaugengigl. In 1883 Hassam painted in England, Scotland, Holland, Italy, and Spain. Soon after, he married Kathleen Maud Doane and, in 1886, returned to Europe. While earning a living in Paris as a painter and illustrator, he enrolled at the Academie Julian, where he studied under Boulanger and Lefebvre.

During this second trip to Europe he because friends with John Twachtman, 'Theodore Robinson, Willard Metcalf, and other artists with whom he would later paint in Cos Cob and Old Lyme. Hassam painted what was probably his first Impressionist picture, Le Jour du Grand Prix, which was awarded a gold medal at die 1888 Paris Salon (fig. 6). Certainly influenced by Claude Monet and the French, Hassam's work remained distinctively American, marked by his personal exploitation of Impressionist ideas, as he himself asserted:

I have to de-bunk the idea that I learned to paint in France. I learned to paint in Boston before I ever went to France. I have to de-bunk the idea that I use dots of color, so called, or what is known as impressionism (everybody who paints and sees is probably an impressionist) but none of those men who are supposed to have painted with dots and dashes ever really did do just that. There are only two or three who ever tried it and they gave it right up. It never amounted to anything.

Hassam continued to paint in France until 1889. After winning a bronze medal in the Paris Exposition that year, he returned to the United States and settled in New York. New York remained his primary residence for most of his life, for unlike many of his colleagues Hassam loved the city. "To me New York is the most wonderful city in the world," he declared. "No street, no section of Paris or any other city I have seen is equal to New York."

None the less, the enthusiastic athlete and gregarious bon vivant spent much of his time traveling to places where he might find picturesque subjects and enjoy country living, congenial companionship, and outdoor exercise. One of Hassam's favorite sites for these pursuits is described in a letter to his close friend, J. Alden Weir, with whom he often visited in Branchville and in Windham. He writes from Old Lyme, in questionable French, of the special ambience he feels there: "Venez donc passer quelque temps ici! Temps superbe! La tres bonne chere et une societe comme it n'y en a pasune seconde!" He liked his studio there, too - "just the place for high thinking and low living." Though his association with Old Lyme was relatively brief, it had far-reaching effects on the development of that art colony.

Another favored spot for painting and relaxation was Cos Cob, which he visited on and off for more than twenty years. Cos Cob was especially significant in Hassam's development as a printmaker, for he turned seriously to etching for the first time there in the summer of 1915. In both places, architecture - classic New England churches as well as ramshackle waterfront warehouses - occupied as much of his time as landscape. He also painted figure studies in both the Holley House and Florence Griswold's "Holy House."

Known to his friends as Muley, a nickname from Tile Club days that apparently referred to his strong opinions, Hassam enjoyed popularity in his time and is remembered both as an artist and as a unique personality. Artist Arthur Heming describes "a spruce-looking man of medium height and powerful build" who was affectionately called "the old devil" by a servant at the Griswold House. At Miss Florence's he liked to rummage through the trunks in the attic for an old flowered dressing gown or stove-pipe hat to wear down the street to the post office in order to startle the townspeople. Whether at Old Lyme, Cos Cob, Appledore, New Hampshire, or Easthampton, New York, he could be counted on to keep things lively.

Hassam's popularity as an artist is shown by the numerous awards and honors he received for his work, as well as by the widespread acceptance he won from contemporary critics. Together with J. Alden Weir and John Twachtman, Hassam founded The Ten in 1897. He was a member of the American Water Color Society, the Society of American Artists, the National Academy of Design, and the Association of American Painters and Sculptors.

Finally, he was an artist interested in American art education. He willed his own collection of work to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a group of nearly 450 paintings, pastels, and decorative panels. At his direction, the collection was sold, at prices set by Macbeth and Milch galleries, for the purchase of works by contemporary American and Canadian artists to be given to museums of the United States. Like the Ranger Fund, Hassam's generous bequest has benefited numbers of public museum collections in this country and has fostered interest in American art.

Further reading:
Adams, Adeline. Childe Hassam. N.Y.: American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1938.
Childe Hassam, 1859-1935. Exh. cat., University of Arizona Museum of Art, 1972.
Cortissoz, Royal. Catalogue of the Etchings and Dry-Points of Childe Hassam, N.A. N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925.
Hoopes, Donelson. Childe Hassam. N.Y.: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1979.

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries,
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