Childe Hassam was a highly significant American artist who specialised in the Impressionist style. He was highly prolific and varied in the mediums that he used, leaving behind thousands of artworks by the end of his career in the early 20th century.
The artist would develop a large number of charming cityscapes which combine a perfect balance of contemporary and traditional influences. He would work in oils, watercolors, etchings and lithographs as he attempted to spread his artistic talents as far as possible. Hassam was one of a number of prominent American Impressionists who sold this new artistic style to their countrymen and allowed more modern art to achieve a greater traction across the country. Collectors and dealers from that point onwards would strive to acquire more of their work as well as flocking to the European names who had started the movement in the first place. America itself is a nation born from immigration and the fusion of different cultures, and so was culturally able to absorb new ideas fairly quickly. The nation had also followed European art for centuries but was now starting to form its own movements that attained international respect in their own right.
Hassam worked commercially initially, merely attempting to help out his family who had financial difficulties after some unfortuante events. His ambitions moved beyond this once he started to show promise as an illustrator for a respected engraver, encouraging him to move into watercolours as well. From then on he would slowly transition from working to covering his and his family's bills to actually becoming a genuine artist. Having bypassed the usual routes of art training, Hassam took advice from others over travelling across the country and abroad in order to study the work of the great masters of the past. These journeys would also help to mature the man himself, as he came across different cultures for the first time.
He would travel with a colleague for two months across Europe, with the work of Turner being his most memorable experience. They discovered different environments which could inspire whole new bodies of work, but also learnt about compositional techniques from those who had worked on landscape and cityscape subjects over the past few centuries. He would return to Europe later in his career, but spent most of the main part of his career travelling around his native USA. Hassam helped to encourage collectors to acquire Impressionist art, and so this may have made it easier for him to view related artworks within the US over time rather than having to return to Europe too often for new ideas and inspiration. As his career developed he also rose in confidence and seeked to forge his own methods, rather than just consciously following the masters once his initial development had been completed.
The French Impressionists started to exhibit their work in the US around two decades after the movement had first appeared. There was only a small number of exhibitions though, and it required American artists to take these styles into their own work in order to allow Impressionism to really gain a foothold within the country. Americans worked in this manner from around the late 1880s, having initially visited its main exponents in Paris at around the same time. The likes of Mary Cassatt and Childe Hassam would play a crucial role in convincing American collectors and curators of the merits of this groundbreaking new approach to art. As a consequence they would start to more readily acquire artworks from both American and European Impressionists. The American Impressionists attempted to remind the public of the beauty of the American landscape, at a time when the impact of Industrialisation was starting to change the face of the country.
Childe Hassam's Most Famous Oil Paintings
This was a consistent artist who left behind a huge body of work, numbering around 3,000 by the end of his lifetime. It is not easy to determine confidently as to what were his most famous paintings, but some of the better known pieces tend to refer to a particular location or event. Fifth Avenue and Rainy Day, Boston are particularly charming, as is Broadway and 42nd Street. Flags decorate a number of his artworks and these have proven popular, including the likes of The Avenue in the Rain, Allies Day, May 1917, July Fourteenth, Rue Daunou, 1910 and also The Fourth of July, 1916. Most of these compositions capture views across busy streets within the US. He also addressed nature many times in his oeuvre, but these individual pieces are not generally quite as well known. Late Afternoon, New York, Winter provides a good example of how he would study changing conditions, such as seasons and weather, which was an important element of both European and American Impressionism.
Childe Hassam's Watercolours
Watercolour was the first medium in which Hassam painted, with oils following some years afterwards. The medium is cheap and easily accessible, meaning he could make a start even as a relatively young man. He would learn etching and drawing as part of his apprenticeship but studied watercolour by visiting various galleries to learn from those from previous centuries. He would eventually travel to the UK as part of a wider period living in Europe and here he would come across the work of Turner, who is considered one of the finest watercolour painters of all time. The connection between Monet and Turner also made Hassam inevitably interested in the Romanticist approach, and he understood many techniques of watercolour by studying in this manner, rather than using the more traditional methods of studying in an art school. The artist's love of nature was also perfectly aligned with that art form and he continued to use watercolours throughout his career, even as his knowledge of alternatives continued to grow.
Childe Hassam's Etchings
The artist became an apprentice in his early years and quickly developed his knowledge of illustration and etching. This period helped to cover the huge knowledge gap which existed because of his lack of art education. He was unable to finance the normal route and so married his apprenticeship with regular trips to galleries in the US and, eventually, Europe. Etching was a good way in which to make money at that time, and had been so for several centuries. He would re-use these skills learnt within the main part of his career and some etchings still exist today. Up to now, there still has not been a major review of his contribution to this medium which is perhaps overdue, considering the level of research which has gone into his oil and watercolour paintings. The raw talents that he possessed are always best displayed within the more restrictive mediums of drawing and etching, with the former providing the basis to almost all other type of artwork.
Childe Hassam's Lithographs
Towards the end of his career the artist would release series of lithographic prints which would allow him to spread his reputation further. His paintings would now command high prices which would be out of reach for many American families, but the prints were produced in series of up to several hundreds, which made them accessible to lower income families. Many of these would be constructed in pencil, with a signature, date and number in the bottom corner. They would follow standard sizes which could then be framed and sold to the public. Today these items hold good value, even though many different copies were sold at the same time. Recent auctions have achieved prices of several thousand dollars for each one, making them still a good way of collecting the artist's work for those with more limited budgets. The reduced price of lithographic prints also means one may not have to worry about issues such as theft and insurance or accidental damage and just enjoy the piece as they would any other reproduction print.
Influences on Childe Hassam
The biggest names that inspired Hassam's artistic direction were all European, but over time he did also draw inspiration from a number of Americans as well. American Impressionism was, by definition, a collection of artists who were following Europeans and the names that particularly interested Hassam were Renoir and Monet. He also took some ideas from the Pointilism of Georges Seurat. We also know that he respected more traditional watercolours from the likes of JMW Turner, whom he came across during his first trip to Europe in the early part of his career. James Whistler was an American painter who worked much of his career in Europe and he was also well known to Hassam, at a time when the cross over between the two regions was entirely fluid. Whistler himself created many atmospheric cityscapes which can be compared to the manner in which Hassam headed as his oeuvre developed over time. The role of Americans within the Impressionist approach took time to develop but as it did, so Hassam would see other ideas across the country which influences his own direction.
Those Influenced by Childe Hassam
Edward Hopper is known to have taken on elements from Hassam's career into his own, and he must be considered the most famous artist to have taken direction from Childe. Additionally, it is believed that Maurice Prendergast would also draw inspiration from his career. The biggest impact made by Hassam was probably more generally in how he helped Impressionism to be accepted within the US, to the benefit of both European and American artists. It was groundbreaking in its nature, and it would inevitably require some time in order for collectors, curators and the public to come around to these new ideas. He also helped to establish American art as a major international force which would start to forge its own unique path, having followed in the shadows of European art for several centuries. This would eventually evolve into the scenario of today where America dominates the international art scene, to a certain degree, with New York being the central hub for the entire western world.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.