Cover image for Childe Hassam, impressionist
Childe Hassam, impressionist
Adelson, Warren.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Abbeville Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
256 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 32 cm
Format :


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ND237.H345 A84 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

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Childe Hassam's impressive career as one of America's foremost Impressionists is celebrated and illuminated in this dazzlingly beautiful volume.

No other American Impressionist ever surpassed the quality and variety of Hassam's output as a painter and draftsman. Equally talented in oils, watercolors, and prints, he explored rain-swept city scenes, glorious gardens, exquisite women, and stirring flag-lined streets. Many of these irresistible pictures are hidden in private collections and are rarely, if ever, accessible to the public; others are on view at major museums across the country, from the Metropolitan Museum to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

By approaching Childe Hassam (1859-1935) from different angles, the three authors reveal this multitalented artist's many facets and uncover previously unknown aspects of his life and work. The authoritative essays are illustrated with a brilliant array of color illustrations that represent all of Hassam's styles, from Barbizon-inspired Tonalism to Impressionism to Post-Impressionism. The book concludes with an invaluable illustrated chronology and an annotated bibliography.

Author Notes

William H. Gerdts was born in 1929 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Amherst College and a master's degree and PhD in fine arts from Harvard University. He has served as curator of art at the Norfolk (Virginia) Museum and resident director of the historic Myers House in Norfolk, as curator of painting and sculpture at the Newark (New Jersey) Museum, and as gallery director at the University of Maryland (College Park), where he also taught art history. He is an art historian and professor of art history at CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of 25 books on American art including Art Across America. Two Centuries of Regional Painting and American Impressionism.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935) is considered the preeminent American Impressionist. He started at the Boston Art School, learning engraving and illustration, but went to Paris and studied with Boulanger and Lefebvre before eventually becoming one of "The Ten," a group of Impressionists. Filled with rainy or snow-covered city streets, colorful seaside gardens, patriotic flag-lined avenues, and exquisitely dressed women, his paintings are unmistakable. The authors of this current work approach different facets of Hassam and his work: gallerist Adelson looks at the artist in an international context drawing connections to Monet and Vuillard; William Gerdts (American Impressionism) looks at ongoing themes; and art historian Jay Cantor focuses on the departures of Hassam's later work, nudes, and East Hampton views. Many of the illustrations are familiar ones, but the authors gained access to many others in private collections that are reproduced here for the first time. The extensive illustrations, 200 in color, are complemented by a detailed illustrated chronology and extensive bibliography. Highly recommended as a necessary purchase for serious collections on American Art.--Joseph C. Hewgley, Nashville P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Excerpt from: Childe Hassam, Impressionist From Essay Three: Three Themes by William H. Gerdts For God and Country Hassam's art was grounded in tradition. This may seem a curious label for the achievement of a painter so fully associated with the aesthetics of Impressionism--an aesthetic that, for much of Hassam's lifetime, was considered the leading edge of artistic expression in America, however passé it had become in Europe. Even more, the foreign origins of that aesthetic might seem antithetical to its integration with the strongly traditional strain embodied in the concept of national identity. Still, one must recognize that Impressionist modernism and an American nationalism were hardly mutually exclusive; indeed, those two elements dominate the observations and conclusions on modern art in Hamlin Garlands Crumbling Idols (1894), which is often cited as the first significant American discourse on Impressionism. Garland laid out his cultural strategies for the alliance of modernism and Americanism most strongly in an exhibition catalog essay written the following year (though this time with a Midwestern "heartland" bias, rather than a New England one). During the course of his long career, Hassam's art was read by critics as representing particularly American values, drawn especially from his New England heritage. It may seem odd that the painter of such lush, colorful canvases was frequently labeled a "Puritan," especially at a time when Puritanism had come under intense assault for its doctrines and its traditions of inhibition. Yet Hassam's art truly is replete with references to and representations of characteristics both national and spiritual. The artist's wildflower gardens, for example, have rightly been viewed as distinctly American (with particular New England connotation), celebrating the same casual freedom that numerous authors have found preferable to the more rigidly formalized European garden tradition. Although Hassam was not associated with any specific denomination, he seems to have depicted more ecclesiastical structures than any other major American painter. These often appeared in his panoramic cityscapes in Boston and New York, as well as in some painted abroad, showing Notre-Dame in Paris and Saint Peters in Broadstairs, England. It could be argued, of course, that these structures were included because they were there, or because their tall spires and towers added a pleasing variation to the horizon line. But their significance in conveying a spiritual resonance becomes evident when we recognize how many images Hassam painted in which a house of god is the primary focus within the urban complex. Hassam's series of church images began the first year he lived in New York, with the depiction of the First Presbyterian Church in Lower Fifth Avenue (plate 210)--a logical enough choice, since it was between Eleventh and Twelfth Streets, only a few blocks down Fifth Avenue from Hassam's studio. The great Gothic tower of this 1845 structure rises almost spectrally, providing spiritual guardianship over the evening landscape of heavy street traffic and an orderly procession of well-groomed pedestrians. A few years later Hassam painted Calvary Church in the Snow (plate 211), focusing almost completely on the great double-towered Episcopal church, built by James Renwick in 1847, that still fronts Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) at Twenty-first Street. This was probably painted early in 1893, during the brief time that Hassam was living at the Chelsea Hotel on Twenty-third Street and thus not far from this building; the church was even closer to the National Academy of Design at Twenty-third Street and Fourth Avenue, where he frequently exhibited his paintings. Hassam infused the gray stonework with shades of purple, contrasting this with the blanket of snow that covers its roofs as well as the scarcely occupied sidewalks and streets. The emptiness of the scene is logical, given the inclement weather, but it may also reflect Hassam's cognizance that the church was only sparsely attended, never having attracted the wealthy residents for which lower Fourth Avenue had originally been developed. There was a general lull in Hassam's urban imagery at the turn of the century, paralleled by a hiatus in his renderings of individual New York churches, but he returned to the theme in 1907 with Church of the Paulist Fathers (private collection). In this case, the Roman Catholic church on Ninth Avenue between Fifty-ninth and Sixtieth Streets takes up the distant rear plane of the scene. In the middle distance is the Empire Hotel; the crenellated building in the foreground, topped with a furled American flag, is the First Battery National Guard Armory (1901), situated right across from Hassam's studio at 27 West Sixty-seventh Street. Thus, Hassam contrasts a variety of revivalist styles--Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance, with a spectrum of city services--religious, touristic, and military. Three years later, Hassam painted another Episcopal church, Saint Marks in the Bowery (plate 212), situated at the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Tenth Street. This was the most historic urban church in Hassam's repertory. Standing on the former estate of Peter Stuyvesant (the Dutch administrator of what was originally New Amsterdam), the Federal-style building dates from 1799, with a Greek Revival steeple built in 1828 by the renowned architect Ithiel Town. Even though the church was deep in the heart of the low-lying buildings of the East Village, Hassam depicts Saint Marks almost like a community church, silhouetted against the cloud-strewn sky and fronted by broad avenues with pedestrians and a horse-drawn carriage. In contrast to his previous depictions of urban churches, here New York has all but disappeared, at a time when it was, in actuality, rapidly acquiring the vertical character of a skyscraper city. In fact, Hassam may have meant to stress here the primacy of the spiritual and the traditional over the material celebrity of the new commercial skyscrapers that, as Henry James had recently written, were "undermining, both physically and philosophically, the very foundations of culture and tradition." Later Miriam Beard would note that, among the tall buildings, the "church spires of Manhattan look more and more like masts of submerged ships." Indeed, the great tall buildings of New York were not only in the process of replacing the church as the city's vertical landmarks, but they also began to acquire their own vocabulary of consecration when the 1913 Woolworth Building was dubbed "the Cathedral of Commerce," as "the chosen habitation of that spirit in man which, through means of change and barter, binds alien people into unity and peace." Hassam did paint the modern canyons of New York (see plate 172, for example), but he commented that the individual "skyscraper is not so much a marvel of art as a wildly formed architectural freak...Any skyscraper taken alone and examined in all its hideous detail is a very ugly structure indeed." If church imagery was important to Hassam in his urban renderings, the subject took on even greater resonance when he painted in the small New England towns that directly related to his own heritage. This sense of personal connection was never more eloquently expressed than in the paintings he created in Old Lyme, beginning with his first stay there in the summer and fall of 1903. Hassam greatly influenced that Connecticut art colony, redirecting the aesthetic emphasis from closely modulated Tonalism (first introduced when the community was "discovered" in 1899 by the painter Henry Ward Ranger) to the free chromatic range of sun-filled Impressionism. The great majority of the pictures painted there by Hassam and his colleagues were landscapes. Frank DuMond, one of Hassam's colleagues who was teaching there during the summer of 1903, described Old Lyme's attractions, from... "the low land of estuaries and salt-meadows to the rugged romantic beauty of rolling glacial hills, here and there ground down to their naked granite structure. Jagged ledges, seams, bowlders [sic], and shattered bits of rock break into the gentle rhythm of the uplands; patches of forest and groups of great oaks cling to their sides, and the gray stone fences still squirm about the barren meadows of a hundred years ago. The village is one of the oldest in New England, and is one of the few remaining places which still possesses the characteristics expressive of the quiet dignity of other days." For Hassam that age and dignity constituted the special attraction of Old Lyme. The Congregational Church (built in 1817 by Samuel Belcher) and the boardinghouse/home of Florence Griswold were the two buildings central to the development of the town as an art colony. Hassam and his wife, along with countless other painters, stayed at Griswold House, where Griswold sheltered artists as well as "tramps and bums of all descriptions," according to Hassam. Hassam's respect for both tradition and religion infuses one of his most famous series, the group of paintings of the Congregational Church begun during his first season there. In Church at Old Lyme (plate 216), the majestic white structure rises up starkly and triumphantly, while the golden red leaves of autumnal elms bow gracefully before it. When the work was exhibited in the annual show of the Ten American Painters in 1904, critics admired the picture and took note of Hassam's sensitivity to locale. One wrote, "The large Church of Old Lyme is entirely satisfactory; it well expresses the spirit of the place, and the surroundings of the stately white buildings are celebrated with the same sympathetic and skillful touch." By 1906 Hassam had painted the church three more times; the most often exhibited version, Church at Old Lyme (plate 51), was completed, according to the inscription affixed to it, on October 17, 1905. This version garnered even more praise than the first. Frank Fowler wrote extensively about it, concluding, "It is in essence a phase of consecrated New England"--a summation that the artist would surely have approved. Hassam also painted a moonlight version in 1905 (private collection) and, a year later, Church at Old Lyme (plate 217). Hassam might have gone on to paint even more versions, but the church was destroyed by fire early in the morning of July 3, 1907; though rebuilt in 1910, it may never again have embodied for Hassam its traditional glory. On learning of the disaster, he wrote to Griswold that he "always had a real and pagan delight in the many and beautiful aspects of that old church. They cannot rebuild it--never!" Hassam had tremendous admiration for the architecture of New England churches as well as for their spiritual significance, for their classical proportions underscored their sense of permanence. As quoted by the daughter and biographer of his friend and Impressionist colleague J. Alden Weir, Hassam said, "New England churches have the same kind of beauty as Greek temples...My business is to sit in front of a beautiful church or a beautiful woman and paint them." He painted such structures both before and after he began visiting Old Lyme. Among his finest later renderings is The Church of Gloucester (plate 218), one of several pictures of Gloucester churches he painted that year. The church is surrounded by elms that appear to march toward the building, but otherwise it stands alone, a noble affirmation of Hassam's pride in his American heritage at a time--the war-plagued year of 1918--of international struggle. This Gloucester landmark was the first Universalist church in the United States, dedicated in 1806. It had played an important role in legalizing the right to a free church in America, though Hassam may not have been aware of its history. The Universalist doctrines are close to those of the Unitarian church, which Hassam had attended in his youth. He later reminisced about those days in Dorchester: "Some of the white churches were actual (for they are accounted today) masterpieces. And the white church on Meeting Hill as I look back on it was no exception. Painting as I often have the white New England church tower in its setting preferably of American elms, sometimes with the color of our glorious American autumn, as the well known picture The Church at Old Lyme, owned by the Buffalo Museum. ... Excerpted from Childe Hassam, Impressionist by Warren Adelson, Jay Cantor, William H. Gerdts All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.