Friday, June 21, 2013

Childe Hassam, American Impressionist

Childe Hassam (1859-1935), a pioneer of American Impressionism and perhaps its most devoted, prolific, and successful practitioner, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts (now part of Boston), into a family descended from settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Equally adept at capturing the charms of country retreats and the excitement of modern cities, Hassam became the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century. In our day, he is best known for his depictions of flag-draped Fifth Avenue during World War I.

From June 10 to September 12, 2004, The Metropolitan Museum of Art offered Childe Hassam, American Impressionist, an unprecedented exhibition of about 120 of Hassam's finest oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels, and some 30 prints. The retrospective celebrated Hassam's brilliant handling of color and light and examined his responses to the advent of the modern era in view of his credo that "the man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him.

After establishing his reputation in Boston and studying in Paris – where he was unusual among his American contemporaries in his attraction to French Impressionism – Hassam returned to the United States and took up lifelong residence in New York. The exhibition featured many of Hassam's signature images of Boston, Paris, and New York – three cities whose places and pleasures he captured with affection and originality. Examples included

Boston Common at Twilight (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) from 1885-86;

April Showers, Champs Elysées, Paris (Joslyn Art Museum), painted in 1888;

and Late Afternoon, New York: Winter 1900 (Brooklyn Museum of Art).

While Hassam was unusual among the American Impressionists for his frequent depictions of burgeoning cities, he spent long periods in the countryside, where he found respite from urban pressures and inspiration for numerous important works of art. Hassam's many portrayals of the old-fashioned gardens, rocky coast, and radiant sunlight of the Isles of Shoals, Maine, are among his most cherished works and were represented extensively. Among them will be the 1894 interior scene

The Room of Flowers (private collection)

and the 1901 view

Coast Scenes, Isles of Shoals,

the first canvas by the artist to enter the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Hassam's views of Newport, Portsmouth, Old Lyme, Gloucester, and other New England locales exemplify the late 19th-century appreciation of the picturesque region redolent of early American settlement and colonial growth. An example was the 1905 work,

Church at Old Lyme (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo).

Increasingly challenged by modern life – and modern art – after 1900, Hassam chose to paint tranquil interior vignettes, iconic churches in the northeast, patriotic urban scenes –especially the memorable Flag series – and glimpses of East Hampton, Long Island, where he purchased a summer residence in 1919. These images were also highlighted.

Fascinating article, many more images.

The exhibition was organized by H. Barbara Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture.

The exhibition was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue containing an overview of Hassam's career, thematic essays, a life chronology, and a chronology of exhibitions of his works during Hassam's lifetime. Authors include: (from the Metropolitan Museum) H. Barbara Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings, Department of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Elizabeth Barker, Assistant Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints; Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director, Smithsonian Art Museum, Washington; Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Kimberly Orcutt, Assistant Curator of American Art, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; Carol Troyen, John Moors Cabot Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and independent scholars Kathleen M. Burnside, Stephanie L. Herdrich, Susan G. Larkin, Lisa Miller, and Dana Pilson. Assistance in organizing the exhibition and the accompanying publication was provided by Megan Holloway and Elizabeth Block, Research Assistants, Department of American Paintings and Sculpture, who are also co-authors of the chronologies.