Grand prix day Sun
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Hassam (pronounced HASS'm;) (known to all as Childe, pronounced like child) was born in his family home in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1859. His father Frederick was a moderately successful businessman with a large collection of art and antiques. He descended from a long line of New Englanders, while his mother, Rosa, was a native of Maine. Hassam demonstrated an interest in art early. He had his first lessons in drawing and watercolor while attending The Mather School, but his parents took little notice of his nascent talent.
As a child Hassam excelled at boxing and swimming at Dorchester High School. A disastrous fire in November 1872 wiped out much of Boston's commercial district, including his father's business. Hassam left high school after two years despite his uncle's offer to pay for a Harvard education. Hassam preferred to help support his family by working. His father arranged a job for him in the accounting department of publisher Little, Brown & Company. During that time, he studied the art of wood engraving and found employment with George Johnson, a wood engraver. He quickly proved an adept draftsman (listed as a "draughtsman" in the Boston directory) and he produced designs for commercial engravings such as letterheads and newspapers. Around 1879, Hassam began creating his earliest oil paintings, but his preferred medium was watercolor, mostly outdoor studies.
L'Exposition universelle de Chicago
Columbian Exposition, Chicago
Champs Elysées, Paris, 1889
Snowstorm, Madison Square Garden, 1890
By 1883, Hassam was exhibiting publicly and had his first solo exhibition, of watercolors, at the Williams and Everett Gallery in Boston. The following year, his friend Celia Thaxter convinced him to drop his first name and thereafter he was known simply as "Childe Hassam". He also began to add a crescent symbol in front of his signature, the meaning of which remains unknown.
Having had relatively little formal art training, Hassam was advised by his friend (and fellow Boston Art Club member) Edmund H. Garrett to take a two-month "study trip" with him to Europe during the summer of 1883. Hassam and Garrett traveled throughout the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain, studying the Old Masters together and creating watercolors of the European countryside. Hassam was particularly impressed with the watercolors of J. M. W. Turner. Sixty-seven of the watercolors Hassam did on this trip formed the basis of his second exhibition in 1884. During this period, Hassam taught at the Cowles Art School. He also joined the "Paint and Clay Club", expanding his contacts in the art community, which included prominent critics and "the readiest and smartest of our younger generation of artists, illustrators, sculptors, and decorators—the nearest thing to Bohemia that Boston can boast."
Friends found him to be energetic, robust, outgoing, and unassuming, capable of self-mockery and considerate acts, but he could be argumentative and wickedly witty against the art community who opposed him. Hassam was particularly influenced by the circle of William Morris Hunt, who like the great French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, emphasized the Barbizon tradition of working directly from nature. He absorbed their credo that "atmosphere and light are the great things to work for in landscape painting."
A Back Road
In 1885, a noted critic, in part responding to Hassam’s early oil painting A Back Road (1884), stated that "the Boston taste for landscape painting, founded on this sound French school, is the one vital, positive, productive, and distinctive tendency among our artists today...the truth is poetry enough for these radicals of the new school. It is a healthy, manly muscular kind of art."
In the Park, Paris
Early Evening, After Snowfall
Late in 1886 Hassam and his wife, Kathleen Maud, departed for France and spent the next three years abroad. They settled in Paris, and Hassam began lessons in drawing at the Académie Julian with Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre. His work of these years reflects his growing awareness of the French Impressionists; he consistently used broken brushstrokes, and his palette rapidly became brighter. Hassam preferred to consider himself a painter of ‘light and air’ in a general sense rather than be labeled an Impressionist.
In 1889 Hassam settled in New York. He continued to depict urban scenes just as he had in Boston, a genre with which he became so closely identified. In the summer seasons he traveled to artistic resorts throughout New England. Around 1884 he visited Appledore Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the Maine–New Hampshire coast, and he returned there repeatedly during the early 1890s to produce some of his finest and most sophisticated Impressionist watercolors and oils. By 1892 Hassam was exhibiting regularly at the annual exhibitions of most of the major art institutions on the East Coast, including the Boston Art Club, American Water Color Society, National Academy of Design, New York Water Color Club, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Art Club. In 1898 he helped to organize the first exhibition, in New York, of the Ten American painters.
Between 1900 and 1910 Hassam continued to live and work in New York, during the warmer months visiting the artistic colonies at Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut; his brand of Impressionism influenced not only students and amateur artists who gathered there, but also fellow American Impressionists such as Julian Alden Weir and Willard Leroy Metcalf.