Childe Hassam (1859-1935) was a pioneer of American Impressionism and perhaps its most devoted, prolific and successful practitioner. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is offering Childe Hassam, American Impressionist, an unprecedented exhibition of about 120 of Hassam?s finest oil paintings, watercolors and pastels, as well as some 20 prints. The retrospective?the first on the artist to appear in a museum since 1972?will celebrate Hassam?s brilliant handling of color and light and will examine 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 everyday life around him.?
?Childe Hassam has long been popular among specialists and collectors, even though he is not widely known by name to the public at large,? commented exhibition curator H. Barbara Weinberg, who is The Metropolitan Museum'?s Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture. ?The exhibition will introduce the public to the many subjects that Hassam explored in a variety of media and, by recognizing his significant role in importing the French Impressionist style to the United States, will define him as the leader of American Impressionism?
Childe Hassam was born in 1859 in Dorchester, Massachusetts (now part of Boston), into a family descended from settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Equally adept at capturing the excitement of modern cities and the charms of country retreats, Hassam became the foremost chronicler of New York City around 1900 while he also responded to the nostalgic appreciation for rural New England. In our day, he is best known for his depictions of flag-draped Fifth Avenue during World War I and his spectacular views of gardens on the Isles of Shoals.
The exhibition is arranged thematically within a chronological framework. The first gallery, devoted to Hassam?s early work in and around Boston, introduces the dual interest in rural and urban themes that would define his career. When the young artist went to Paris to study for three years, beginning in 1886, he was unusual among his contemporaries in his attraction to French Impressionism. Having portrayed the new precincts of Boston?the expanded South End and the Back Bay, as well as the city?s rural surroundings?he created both engaging views of Third Republic Paris and exquisite vignettes of suburban gardens. Settling in New York in 1889, Hassam became the only Impressionist to specialize in the urban spectacle, celebrating the genteel residential neighborhoods along Fifth Avenue and the adjacent parks and squares. With New York serving as his professional headquarters, he would refresh his spirit and find subjects for oils, watercolors, pastels and prints in New England coastal villages and in East Hampton, New York, where he purchased a summer house in 1919.
The exhibition will feature many of Hassam?s signature images of Boston, Paris and New York?three cities whose places and pleasures he captured with affection, originality and an appreciation of the shifting moods of the seasons and the weather. The appealing Boston Common at Twilight (1885-1886 , Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) shows elegant pedestrians along the edge of the park in the fading daylight of a winter afternoon. In April Showers, Champs Elys?es, Paris (1888, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha), a young woman peers from beneath her umbrella to watch a passing parade of pedestrians and passengers on a public omnibus?all similarly sheltered by umbrellas. The poetic Late Afternoon, New York: Winter (1900, Brooklyn Museum of Art) evokes the mood of midtown during a snowfall at dusk.
Hassam?s images of New York, painted between 1889 and 1919, document its transformation into a ?world city.? Familiar landmarks appear in such early works as Washington Arch, Spring (about 1893, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.) and Union Square in Spring (1896, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts). Images of some of the city?s long-gone structures are also preserved in Hassam?s paintings. Of particular interest to historians of the city will be The Manhattan Club (The Stewart Mansion) (Santa Barbara Museum of Art), a canvas from about 1891. The grandiose edifice depicted had been completed in 1869 on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue at 34th Street for the dry goods millionaire A.T. Stewart; upon the death of Stewart?s widow in 1886, it was rented to a private club. The marble mansion was demolished in 1903 to make way for the Knickerbocker Trust Company (later called the Columbia Trust Company). Just across 34th Street from the Stewart mansion was the handsome brownstone owned by Mrs. William B. Astor, which was itself razed to make way for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, shown with the Knickerbocker Trust Company in another painting by Hassam?Flags on the Waldorf, 1916 (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas). The hotel was demolished in 1929 and replaced by the Empire State Building. Throughout the exhibition, contemporary photographs will document scenes that Hassam interpreted with an Impressionist?s palette and rapid brushwork.
Although Hassam was exceptional among the American Impressionists for his frequent depictions of burgeoning cities, he also spent long periods in the countryside, where he found respite from urban pressures and inspiration for numerous important works of art. Especially noteworthy were his paintings, pastels and watercolors of the exuberant old-fashioned flower garden planted on Appledore Island?one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire?by the renowned New England gardener and garden writer Celia Thaxter (1835-1894). As a result of their long friendship, which began about 1879, Hassam became as passionate a painter of gardens as Mrs. Thaxter was a creator of them. Some of his most memorable works portray the informal brilliance of her garden on Appledore. In the eloquent 1892 canvas In the Garden (Celia Thaxter in Her Garden) (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.), Hassam shows his friend lost in thought as she stands among the blossoms in her garden, with the sea and sky behind her.
Hassam?s many responses to the old-fashioned gardens, rocky coast and radiant sunlight of the Isles of Shoals are among his most cherished works and will be represented
extensively. Among them will be the rarely exhibited 1894 interior scene The Room of Flowers (private collection), which shows a young woman reading in the celebrated sun-drenched and art-filled parlor of Celia Thaxter's Appledore cottage, and the dramatic 1901 view Coast Scenes, Isles of Shoals, the first canvas by the artist to enter the collection of The Metropolitan Museum (in 1909).
Hassam?s images of Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut, Gloucester, Portsmouth, Newport, and other New England locales exemplify the prevailing appreciation of the picturesque region redolent of early American settlement and colonial growth. Hassam?s pride in his own family?s long history in the area attracted him to local material culture, as in Gloucester Harbor (Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida), a canvas from 1899.
During World War I, Hassam?s patriotism and the visual richness of New York City?s war-related displays and ceremonies prompted him to paint his most successful and most appealing group of paintings, the Flag series. Flags hang at all heights on skyscraper-lined Fifth Avenue in The Fourth of July, 1916 (The Greatest Display of the American Flag Ever Seen in New York, Climax of the Preparedness Parade in May) (private collection), one of only two sunny summer flag paintings by Hassam. After America?s entry into the war in April 1917, its flag was most often displayed with the banners of France and Britain, its closest allies. Thus, the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes are reiterated in the French tricolor and the British Union Jack (as well as the Canadian Red Ensign) in Allies Day, 1917 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Hassam?s most famous flag image. Fundraising activities after the war were also documented by Hassam, as in Victory Day, May 1919 (American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York), which shows an array of large blue-and-white victory pennants and red-and-white banners urging the purchase of victory bonds.
Increasingly challenged by modern life?and modern art?after 1900, Hassam chose to paint tranquil interior vignettes, iconic white-clapboarded Federal-period churches on New England?s village greens and glimpses of East Hampton, Long Island, the town he visited often beginning in 1898. The stunning 1906 canvas, The Victorian Chair (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.), for example, shows a demure young woman in a white dress at rest in a sumptuously upholstered chair. Church at Old Lyme (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo), from 1905, is one of seven oils, watercolors and prints in which the artist recorded the historic church from different angles, while noting the changing seasons in the foliage of the enframing American elms. In Little Old Cottage, Egypt Lane, East Hampton (Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York), painted in 1917, the architecture of the colonial saltbox house, the pair of ladderback chairs set on its porch and the adjacent garden gate combine to celebrate history, domesticity and intimacy.
The museum?s Web site (www.metmuseum.org) will include a special feature about the exhibition.
The exhibition is made possible by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation and The Bank of New York. Additional support for the exhibition and accompanying catalogue has been provided by the Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund.
The exhibition is organized by H. Barbara Weinberg. Exhibition design is by Michael Langley, Exhibition Designer; graphics are by Constance Norkin, Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Rich Lichte, Lighting Designers, all of The Metropolitan Museum?s Design Department.