Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

One of Boston’s best known Impressionist painters, Childe Hassam was raised in Dorchester and took drawing lessons from Walter Smith, Director of the Massachusetts Normal Art School. He began his career as a commercial illustrator and watercolorist beginning in 1877, all the while taking painting lessons from Boston painters Ignaz Gaugengigl and William Rimmer. After a trip to Europe in 1883, Hassam returned to Boston and began painting street scenes, capturing the genteel urban residents of his hometown. He married Kathleen Maud Doane just a year later, and departed for Paris with his new bride for a three-year stay from 1886 to 1889. 

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While abroad, Hassam studied figure drawing at the Académie Julian, settling into a downtown apartment and fully immersing himself in Parisian life, purposely avoiding contact with other visiting Americans. Greatly disappointed in the Académie’s rigid emphasis on mechanical drawing over expressive originality, Hassam withdrew from his training program in the spring of 1888. Working independently from this point forward, Hassam greatly increased his productivity and sought out new motifs from his surroundings. He was drawn to the imagery of cab drivers and followed the city’s racing circuits, executing a number of oils of the Grand Prix races.  By the end of the decade, Hassam had discovered his bright impressionist palette, and he took to creating small-scale en plein air studies with a great enthusiasm.

Hassam moved to New York upon his return from Europe in 1889, although he maintained his ties to Boston throughout his career. He soon connected with the New York art community, becoming a member of the American Water Color Society, the Society of American Artists, and a founding member of the New York Water Color Club. The fixation on urban life that he developed in Paris continued at home with paintings of the familiar brownstones and narrow streets of his native Boston and the parks and bustling avenues of a burgeoning New York. The latter city especially dominated his work during the 1890s as he explored unique perspectives and compositional formats as well as impressionist brushwork and color, elements he would employ on a return voyage to Europe from December 1896 to the fall of 1897.

In 1897, Hassam helped form the Ten American Painters, an exhibition group consisting of notable American Impressionist artists, including William Merritt Chase, Willard Metcalf, Julian Alden Weir, and Boston painters Frank W. Benson and Edmund Tarbell, among others. This distinguished group exhibited together in New York between the years of 1898 and 1919, purposely boycotting the Society of American Artists.  While the skyscrapers and city life of New York provided interesting subject matter, Hassam continued to search for more painting destinations and from 1890 to 1919, he and his wife spent the warmer months exploring the picturesque towns of New England, including Gloucester, Appledore Island off the Maine/New Hampshire coast, and the artist colonies of Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut, returning to the city for the colder seasons. Hassam had some of the strongest influence on his contemporaries during his stays in the Connecticut artist colonies, for he introduced the bright tones and pointillism of the French Impressionists and helped to phase out the muted tonalism previously known to this area. He also explored the idyllic town and gardens of East Hampton on Long Island and eventually purchased a home there in 1919.

Prolific for much of his career, Hassam exhibited with the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and on a local level, Hassam was also a long-standing member of Boston’s Paint and Clay Club, the Boston Water Color Club, and the Boston Art Club, where he exhibited his paintings from 1881 until 1900. Several museums acquired his paintings during his lifetime, including the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Carnegie Institute, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and today most major collections count among their holdings examples of Hassam’s work in oil, watercolor and graphite, underscoring both his versatility and his distinguished place in the annals of American art. 

References: Weinberg, H. Barbara, Childe Hassam, American Impressionist (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004); Hiesinger, Ulrich W., Childe Hassam American Impressionist (New York: Prestel, 1994); Janice H. Chadbourne, Karl Gabosh and Charles O. Vogel, The Boston Art Club Exhibition Record 1873-1909 (Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1991).; Falk, Who Was Who In American Art (1999).  

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