Published: Adelson Galleries, 1999
Hardcover and softcover
This exhibition is entitled Childe Hassam: An American Impressionist and we feel that “impressionist” is an apt description of this painter, at least for the greater part of his production. Hassam was born in Boston in 1959, and his earliest efforts as a painter were rooted in the prevailing aesthetics of that city, which in the early 1880s included tonal haze, dark palette, and dense brushwork of the Barbizon school. After three years in Paris (1886-89), Hassam rapidly converted to a more modern painting, that is, his interpretation of French Impressionism. Hassam’s paintings of the late 1880s, like those of many of his peers, became colorful, boldly brushed contemporary scenes. The bustling urban life of Boston and then New York, where he moved in 1890, became his stage. He continued using these techniques in fragrant seaside resorts of New England and Long Island. It was an artistic strategy that evolved within the body of his work over the ensuing decades. It became a formula he never really abandoned. After the turn of the century other aspects of Modernism influenced him. The patterned forms of Nabi painting and the divisionist brushwork of Neo-Impressionism became evident in his work. With these painterly strategies he became known as the most radical of his contemporaries, the Ten, a breakaway group that he had founded. But the core of his aesthetics remained Impressionism, and it was with this technique that he achieved great success.
Hassam enjoyed great popularity during much of his career. He may have been subject to the vagaries of the economy, the boom years of the 1880s, the recession in the 1890s, but his career was marked by success both financial and critical. By the early years of the century, important museums competed to buy his work. From the very beginning he found a market and his earliest European works were acquired by an enthusiastic coterie in Boston. His long list of private collectors was a “who’s who” of American millionaires. By the time of his death in 1935 and for the following three decades, his work along with that of his contemporaries was eclipsed by the advent of Modernism, the Depression, the Second World War, and the emergence of Abstract Expressionism. But with the reawakening of interest in American Impressionism in the early 1960s by prescient collectors like Daniel and Rita Fraad, Margaret and Ray Horowitz, Florence and Ralph Spencer, Vivian and Pat Potamkin, Arthur Altschul, seconded by the groundbreaking scholarship of William Gerdts, Donelson Hoopes, Richard Boyle, and others, Hassam regained his place in our history.
In this exhibition we have tried to represent the artist’s career in its entirety, a daunting challenge in that it covers six decades of work. The paintings in this show touch upon the major chapters of his oeuvre. These include his earliest watercolors such as On the Deck, (plate 1) and Feeding the Pigeons in the Piazza(plate 2); Paris, Boston and New York City streets; Villiers-le-Bel and Isle of Shoals’ garden scenes; Connecticut and Long Island landscapes, Gloucester and Newport harbors; the Window series; the Flag series; and his East Hampton landscapes and still-lifes. Childe Hassam: An American Impressionist is the last exhibition of Childe Hassam in a century that has witnessed a magnificent revaluation of America’s contribution to the history of art. We hope that this exhibition will confirm for the public what collectors and museums have recognized, that despite its inheritance form European innovators, American Impressionism in general and Hassam’s in particular is original in character, technically superb and comparable to the best French painting. Concurrent with this exhibition is the publication of Childe Hassam – Impressionist (Abbeville Press, 1999) which has been written by Jay Cantor, William Gerdts, and myself. It is our hope that this exhibition and the Abbeville publication will contribute to the ongoing re-evaluation and deepening appreciation of this exceptional American artist.