Childe Hassam was an extremely successful Impressionist painter from the United States. He was very prolific, and was to form the nucleus of a group of American Impressionist artists that included John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, and Mary Cassatt. He was especially known for his urbanscapes.
Born into a family of a rich Boston businessman, Frederick Childe Hassam showed an early interest in drawing. He was called Childe after an uncle, and dropped his given name Frederick, referring to himself as Childe Hassam. He was good at sports in school, and his parents didn’t really notice his talent at art.
Hi father lost his business in a fire that burnt down a major portion of Boston’s commercial area. Hassam dropped out of school, deciding instead to help with the family finances. His father found him work as an accountant, but he escaped that job within weeks and began learning wood engraving instead. He was a good draftsman, and found work for himself easily enough. He also began painting, using mainly watercolor as his medium. He took lessons at the Boston Art Club as well as lessons with the painter Ignaz Gaugengigl.
Edmund H. Garrett, a friend of the artist, convinced him to travel to Europe in 1883. They studied the Old Masters and Hassam painted numerous watercolors of landscapes that he exhibited the next year. He also started giving lessons at the Cowles Art School. He was already beginning to focus on light, the study of which would grow more profound as his career progressed.
Hassam married Kathleen Maude Doane in 1884. They moved to Paris a couple of years later, where Hassam wanted to study. He enrolled at the Academie Julian, but was far more involved with the progress he found he was making by himself painting from real life on the street. He also visited some of the French Impressionist shows, which influenced his style of painting.
He regularly sent his work back to the U.S. for sale, and was making a name for himself at home. He also supported himself with illustration work. The couple moved to New York in 1887. He continued painting street scenes, including carriages and horses. As life in the cities changed, with horses giving way to cars and trucks, he would move away from urban scenes. For the time being, however, he was enjoying living and working in the city, painting the better parts of New York, while rejecting as subjects the grimmer areas of the city.
The Middle Years
Hassam began working through the summers at some of the islands off New Hampshire, especially at Appledore. His friend, the poet Celia Thaxter, was the center of a group of artists and writers that met at her home. He was to paint some typically Impressionist work at these locations. In spite of the economic slump at the time, he continued producing and selling work regularly. He did, however, face some criticism about how he had overdone the Impressionist style, as the Impressionists themselves had moved on to Post-Impressionism and Fauvism.
The Hassams were great travelers, and they returned to Europe for a while. Hassam again involved himself with studying the Old Masters. They travelled to Italy, and then to Paris, heading back to New York in 1897. He was instrumental in the formation of a group of artists called The Ten, Impressionists who no longer felt part of mainstream art movements. His work was beginning to use colors that were lighter in tone, something that was not to the taste of everyone.
Unlike many artists, Hassam was good at handling the business side of his affairs. He managed to keep selling his work through a network of dealers within the country and abroad. The increasing acceptance of Impressionism in America in the beginning of the 20th century helped, and his work was soon being purchased by big museums.
Hassam was still painting buildings and landscapes, but with the eventual changing of urban landscapes, he was increasingly being drawn towards painting landscapes.
Later Years and Death
The artist’s career had taken an upturn by the close of the first decade of the 20th century. They continued travelling, returning to Europe again in 1910. The next decade was to see an active Hassam creating a large number of works. He did his “Flag Series” at this time, the work he is best known for.
Hassam was interested in being part of the war effort, and wished to travel to Europe to document it, but the authorities weren’t willing to take the risk.
Hassam commenced living in East Hampton in 1919. He continued being prolific, but has been criticized as having stagnated in these later years. He received many honors in these last years. He died in 1935.
Date of Birth: 17 October, 1859
Date of Death: August 27, 1935
Place of Birth: Dorchester, Boston, USA
Movement: American Impressionist
Education: Lowell Institute and Boston Art Club
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