Wednesday, January 7, 2015

In the Beginning: Childe Hassam

Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935), who dropped "Frederick" early in his career, was one of the best known and most successful American Impressionists. An extensive Wikipedia biography is here, which indicates that Hassam was largely self-taught, receiving instruction sporadically, and began his career as an illustrator.

Hassam was able to visit Paris while still in his twenties. Therefore, he was aware of the French Impressionists and perhaps Postimpressionist stirrings in the Parisian art world. Combining his virtual lack of academic art training, the need to make illustrations fairly quickly, and his exposure to Impressionism, Hassam was a fast, prolific producer of images then can fairly be termed sketchy. This was true for most of his career after around 1890, though when the occasion called for it, he could tighten up his technique. Examples include watercolors featuring architecture and oil portraits or studies of female nudes.

The present post features paintings Hassam made in the mid-to-late 1880s and very early 1890s. While they contain greater or lesser hints of Impressionism and sketchiness, they are distinctly different from his strongly Impressionist-style paintings of, say, 1910-20.


Allies Day, May 1917 - 1917
When the subject of Childe Hassam comes up, this is the kind of painting that often comes to mind. It is Impressionist, but of the American variety where more attention is paid to value (light-dark), and the structure of subject matter is more carefully depicted than was the wont of Claude Monet in his later years.

Old House in Dorchester [Massachusetts] - 1884
Painted not long after Hassam first visited Europe. The siding boards of the building are clearly shown, but the foreground grasses are freely painted.

Boston Common at Twilight - 1885
Perhaps his best known non-Impressionist work. It can be seen at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

Rainy Day, Boston - 1885

Rainy Day, Boston - 1885
Two wet Boston scenes. Below, you will find similar treatments of Paris.

A City Fairyland - 1886
Again, in Boston.

Paris Street Scene - 1887

Grand Prix Day - 1887-88

Cab Station, rue Bonaparte - 1887

Hackney Carriage, rue Bonaparte - 1888
I've walked the rue Bonaparte many times, but can't place the locations of these paintings on that street. Either my memory is poor, or a few changes might have happened over the past 125 years. (I just checked Google Maps and didn't notice the walls shown in the paintings, so I suppose that changes were indeed made.)

April Showers, Champs-Élysées - 1888
Hassan clearly enjoyed painting rain-soaked streets, but he tightened up when it came to the woman, omnibus and horses.

Lower Fifth Avenue [New York] - 1890
The subjects are crisply outlined, but their interior coloring was influenced by Impressionism.

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