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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Childe Hassam was a highly successful artist who married European and American influences within a large body of work which totalled several thousands of artworks by the end of his career. This biography details his rise to prominence and the strong legacy that he left behind.

This was a free thinking individual who forged his own path. He picked out academic training at times that suited him, and would complete much of it once his career had already begun. Travel was important to him too, and he would spend hours studying the work of other artists in major art galleries across the US and Europe. His oeuvre is most famous for its landscapes and cityscapes, with his flag series perhaps being the most prominent of all. Hassam also managed to capture an important moment in American society, around the time of WWI and heading towards the financial crash which followed soon after. He was always positive in his depictions of the US and can be considered one of the most patriotic of artist to have reached a high standard. Despite his affection for European art, he liked most to use American content within his paintings and did so for most of his career. He would be joined by like minded individuals who helped him to establish Impressionism within the US, leading to growing interest from the public and more frequent exhibitions of their work.

Early Life

Childe Hassam was born in the American city of Boston on October 17, 1859. He was known as Frederick Childe Hassam for many years but was later convinced to drop the 'Frederick' as a means to re-branding himself as an artist. The family surname derived from the English 'Horsham', but had become corrupted over time, leading to questionmarks around his background. Hassam was known to be a strong sportsmen at school and it was here that he also had his first dalliances with art, creating very primitive watercolours and drawings. The loyal boy chose to go into work rather than continuing his studies in order to contribute to the family's wellbeing, in part due to some recent financial problems which had affected his father's business. He rejected an opportunity to study at Harvard and instead took up an apprenticeship where he quickly demonstrated good ability as a draughtsman. Within his own time he also started to develop his talents as a watercolour painter and eventually set up as a freelancer.

Early Career

It was in the early 1880s that Childe Hassam made his first tentative steps as a professional artist, working initially as an illustrator for various publications. He would take in art training alongside his work in order to develop new techniques that could help him to expand his services. He met several other artists at a similar stage in their careers and he took their advice over using travel as a means to continue his education. He headed to Europe for a two-month stint which brought him into contact with respected artists such as JMW Turner. In terms of styles, he also seemed most interested in the French movements of Impressionism and the Barbizon School, both of which would inspire the next part of his development. On returning to the US he decided to make use of the best of these French influences, but to combine it with the content found within his native US. This fusion would prove to be a winning formula and he helped to create an informal group of artists who became known as the American Impressionists.

For the remaining 1880s the artist would start to develop his handling of oils, whislt continuing to build a solid income from his work in other mediums. He eventually chose to live in France in order to study at the respected Académie Julian but did not entirely enjoy his time here, even though he learnt much about the techniques of drawing and painting. He was married by this point and after some years studying French art he chose to move home in 1889. From that point onwards he would continue to refer to French art for inspiration but would predominantly focus on what worked in the US. The family moved to New York and he felt very comfortable within this city, using it as a backdrop for a large amount of work over the next few decades. He also travelled across the country in search of new sources of inspiration for his work. Some places he would return to again and again, such as Gloucester, Massachusetts, Cos Cob, Connecticut and Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Mature Period

After another successful spell in Europe, this time in Italy, the artist chose to form a group known as The Ten. He would be one of the figureheads of this forward-thinking group of artists who were all based in the US. Hassam would now start to feature summer retreats within his work and this brought about an exciting alternative body of work, though he remains fond of cityscapes too. The artist had by now developed a strong network of galleries which would sell his work and was always skilled in the marketing and promotional side of his career. He had connections around the US and abroad who were able to sell his work at ever increasing prices. His style would also start to evolve, with cityscapes now including top-down views in which human figures would be greatily reduced in size. He would also spend his summers in the company of other artists and writers, sharing ideas and also purchasing each other's work from time to time. They would meet in rural locations from which he could also continue to paint the American landscape.

Through the early 20th century the artist would start to take advantage of the years of toil that he had completed earlier in his career. He was now commanding strong valuations on his work and also selling paintings with ease. Demand for his work was strong and the rate at which he released new pieces meant he was financially in a good place. By the 1910s his significant flag series would come along and this brought a patriotic aspect to his work, whilst continuing his focus on city architecture. This would perhaps be his most popular body of work. New artistic styles were starting to appear within Europe but he rejected these and continued with his successful formula for the remainder of his career. Despite his rejection of modern styles, Hassam would still become a strong influence on a number of younger artists, including Edward Hopper.


The most significant impact made by Hassam must surely be in how he managed to convince the American public of the merits of Impressionism. This opened the door for artists such as himself to sell their work around the country, with curators then starting to acquire work from both American and European painters. He was not the only artist who helped to facilitate this, but was undeniably one of the more important. Hassam was also highly skilled in marketing his work, and these talents helped him to make a strong financial success of his career, which perhaps inspired him to work to tirelessly and release just as much work as he did. Some claimed his late work was stale, but really this was an artist who kept a consistent approach in his latter years because he had worked out what would sell. Artistically, he had never left to prove at that point, in any case. Whilst he did choose to study for a period at the Académie Julian, he was generally self-taught and provides another example of what can be achieved without following the tried and tested paths of formal art training.