American Impressionist Painter Childe Hassam: A 5-Minute Guide

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Childe Hassam

 

Childe HassamOne of the greatest American Impressionist painters, Frederick Childe Hassam produced over 3000 works in oil, watercolor, etchings, and lithographs.

Pronounced “child HASS’m”, he demonstrated a talent for drawing and watercolor while at primary school.

At 17, he turned down an offer from his uncle to pay for a Harvard education in favor of working as a wood engraver.

Childe Hassam illustration for St Nicholas Children's magazine
Childe Hassam illustration for St Nicholas Children’s magazine

Proving to be a proficient draftsman, he produced engravings for letterheads and newspapers before becoming a freelance illustrator with his own studio.

Specializing in illustrations for children’s stories in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and Scribner’s Monthly, he held his first solo exhibition in Boston in 1883.

Advised by a friend at the Boston Art Club, he took a two-month “study trip” to Europe in the summer of 1883.

Forming the basis of his next exhibition in 1884 were 67 watercolors from his trip to Europe.

Influenced by the Barbizon school—an art movement for Realism in the context of the Romantic Movement—Hassam focused on the use of atmosphere and light in his landscapes.

Canal Scene by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1883
Canal Scene by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1883
Woodland Pond by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1882
Woodland Pond by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1882

French master Jean-Léon Gérôme had these words of advice for Childe Hassam, which he never forgot:

Look around you and paint what you see … render the intense life which surrounds you.
Church Procession, Spanish Steps by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1883
Church Procession, Spanish Steps by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1883

Taking to heart the words of a noted Boston critic “very pleasant, but not art”, in 1886 Hassam returned to Europe with his wife, settling in a studio in Paris at the center of the art community.

Paris Street Scene by Frederick Childe Hassam
Paris Street Scene by Frederick Childe Hassam

Here, he studied figure drawing and painting at the prestigious Académie Julian but found the teaching stifling,

the Julian academy is the personification of routine … crushing all originality out of growing men. It tends to put them in a rut and it keeps them in it.

Using an innovative change of palette, Hassam painted two versions of Grand Prix Day in 1887. Inspired by the work of French Impressionists, he painted softer, more diffuse colors, full of light, with free brush strokes.

Grand Prix Day by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1887-1888
Grand Prix Day by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1887-1888
Grand Prix Day by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1887
Grand Prix Day by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1887

The completed works garnered attention back home in Boston, with one critic writing,

It is refreshing to note that Mr. Hassam, in the midst of so many good, bad, and indifferent art currents, seems to be paddling his own canoe with a good deal of independence and method. When his Boston pictures of three years ago…are compared with the more recent work…it may be seen how he has progressed.

Exhibiting four paintings at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris, he won a bronze medal, then moved back to the States to take up residence on New York’s Fifth Avenue, painting the genteel neighborhoods within walking distance of his apartment.

View of Broadway and Fifth Avenue by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1890
View of Broadway and Fifth Avenue by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1890
Spring Morning In The Heart Of The City by Childe Hassam, 1890
Spring Morning In The Heart Of The City by Childe Hassam, 1890
New York is the most beautiful city in the world. There is no boulevard in all Paris that compares to our own Fifth Avenue … the average American still fails to appreciate the beauty of his own country.

Hassam’s career went from strength to strength, earning him as much as $6000 per painting in 1909 (equivalent to roughly $160,000 today).

As New York’s architecture changed, with skyscrapers supplanting stately mansions, Hassam lamented a simpler time when gracious horse-drawn carriages ferried people up and down Fifth Avenue.

Fifth Avenue In Winter by Childe Hassam, 1919
Fifth Avenue In Winter by Childe Hassam, 1919

He tired of the bustling subways, elevated trains, and motor buses, and traveled to Oregon, with its high desert, mountains , and rugged coastline.

Ecola Beach, Oregon by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1904
Ecola Beach, Oregon by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1904

In later life, Hassam produced some of his most distinctive paintings. Inspired by America’s involvement in World War One, he painted the “Flag series” in 1916. Being an avid Francophile, so enthusiastically did he embrace the war effort to help protect French culture that he even volunteered to record the war in Europe, but was declined.

Avenue of the Allies by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1918
Avenue of the Allies by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1918

Chosen by Barack Obama to hang in the Oval Office, the Avenue in the Rain is Hassam’s most famous work from the Flag series. As though viewing through a rain-smeared window, Hassam’s broad brushstrokes make a patriotic statement without overt reference to parades or war.

The Avenue in the Rain bu Childe Hassam, 1917
The Avenue in the Rain bu Childe Hassam, 1917

In his final years, he received a Gold Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement among other awards. However, for denouncing the avant-garde modern art trends of Cubism and Surrealism, some critics viewed him as static and repetitive.

He died peacefully in East Hampton at the age of 75, his legacy, an “abandoned genius” from a bygone time.

In the 1960s and 70s, the resurgence of interest in Impressionism saw his work fetch stratospheric prices.

Home Sweet Home Cottage, East Hampton by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1916
Home Sweet Home Cottage, East Hampton by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1916

More beautiful paintings from Childe Hassam

Lady in Flower Garden by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1891
Lady in Flower Garden by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1891
Woman with a Parasol in a Park by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1891
Woman with a Parasol in a Park by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1891
Lady in the Garden by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1897
Lady in the Garden by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1897
The White Dory by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1895
The White Dory by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1895
Rainy Day, Paris by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1893
Rainy Day, Paris by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1893
July Night by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1898
July Night by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1898
Sunday Morning by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1897
Sunday Morning by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1897
Morning Light by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1914
Morning Light by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1914
Fire Opals by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1912
Fire Opals by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1912
Lilies by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1910
Lilies by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1910
Bleak House, Broadstairs by Frederick Childe Hassam
Bleak House, Broadstairs by Frederick Childe Hassam
Ten Pound Island by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1896
Ten Pound Island by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1896
In Central Park by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1898
In Central Park by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1898
Parc Monceau, Paris by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1887-1895
Parc Monceau, Paris by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1887-1895
Conversation on the Avenue by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1892
Conversation on the Avenue by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1892
The Sea by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1892
The Sea by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1892
Promenade at Sunset, Paris by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1888-1889
Promenade at Sunset, Paris by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1888-1889
New York Street Scene by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1890
New York Street Scene by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1890
Evelyn Benedict at the Isles of Shoals by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1890
Evelyn Benedict at the Isles of Shoals by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1890
Twilight by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1888
Twilight by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1888
Peonies by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1888
Peonies by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1888
On the Balcony by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1888
On the Balcony by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1888
In the Luxembourg Gardens by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1888
In the Luxembourg Gardens by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1888
In the Sun by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1888
In the Sun by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1888
Mrs. Hassam at Villiers-le-Bel by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1888
Mrs. Hassam at Villiers-le-Bel by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1888
Mrs. Hassam in the Garden by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1888
Mrs. Hassam in the Garden by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1888
Spring (also known as The Artist's Sister) by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1885
Spring (also known as The Artist’s Sister) by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1885
After Breakfast by Frederick Childe Hassam - 1887
After Breakfast by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1887
Feeding Pigeons in the Piazza by Frederick Childe Hassam - circa 1883
Feeding Pigeons in the Piazza by Frederick Childe Hassam – circa 1883
Improvisation by Childe Hassam, 1899
Improvisation by Childe Hassam, 1899
Summer Sunlight (Isles of Shoals) by Childe Hassam, 1892
Summer Sunlight (Isles of Shoals) by Childe Hassam, 1892

David James

David James

I'm an Englishman in Boston. History is a joy—it binds us, it connects us, it guides us. I'm interested in making history more accessible and more fun. Join me on this fantastic voyage through time.