Skip to content

Childe Hassam

Born Frederick Childe Hassam in Dorchester, Massachusetts, he was the son of Frederick Fitch Hassam, a prosperous cutlery merchant, who was a descendent of several sea captains and Revolutionary War patriots. His mother, Rosa, was related to the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. Through his paternal grandfather, his lineage included the Hunt Family, including the Boston painter William Morris Hunt and the architect Richard Morris Hunt. After an apprenticeship with a wood engraver, Hassam first explored art on his own by working in watercolor. By the early 1880s, he was supporting himself with freelance illustration, specializing in children’s stories. About 1881, he studied drawing and anatomy at the Lowell School of Practical Design in Boston and began to paint pastoral landscapes in the style of the French Barbizon School.


Hassam first traveled to Europe in the summer of 1883, visiting France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. On his return to Boston, he took life classes at the School of Drawing at the Boston Art Club under Tommaso Juglaris. Following his marriage to Canadian Kathleen Maud Doane in 1884, he painted a series of scenes of the streets of Boston, near his home on Columbus Avenue in the city’s South End. During his second trip abroad, from the fall of 1886 through the fall of 1889, he attended classes at the Académie Julian, but his attention became focused during this sojourn on the French Impressionist paintings observed on visits to local galleries and museums. His adherence to this style became apparent in paintings of the time, among them Le Jour de Grand Prix (1887, New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut), capturing brilliant sunlight with shimmering broken brushwork. He participated in the Paris Salons of 1887 and 1888 as well as the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, where he received a bronze medal.


After returning to the United States, Hassam settled in New York City, and continued to explore Impressionism, creating images of the fashionable squares, avenues, and parks of Manhattan. It was at this time that he began his ventures into New England during the summers. Among the haunts that would play a large role in his art was the Isles of Shoals, located off the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine. From 1886 through 1894, his visits there were centered around the presence of the poet Celia Laighton Thaxter, who helped her brothers manage Appledore House and held salons for visiting writers, artists, and musicians. It was Thaxter who convinced Hassam to drop Frederick from his name for his more distinctive middle name. Inspired by the creative atmosphere Thaxter fostered, Hassam honed his Impressionist technique, often using oil and watercolor to depict the flowers of the garden that Thaxter cultivated on the windswept island.


The interest in 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. The trip would prove to be very rewarding; Hassam and his wife traveled to Italy, France and Great Britain, and he recorded his journey in many oils and watercolors which later inspired his paintings upon his return home.


One of the most fruitful stops on their itinerary was the provincial town of Pont-Aven in the northwest region of Brittany, France. A popular retreat for European and American artists, Pont-Aven’s rustic scenery and unassuming villagers intrigued Hassam. His works from this period, including the current example, represented a departure from the depictions of urban life he produced to this point. The straight, broad avenues crowded with pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages in his paintings of Boston and Paris from the 1880s have been replaced with the winding, cobblestone streets and figures in the distinctive dress of the northern French village.  


The vivid color palette and energetic brushwork in Street in Pont-Aven, Evening, are characteristic of Hassam’s urban scenes from this period and can be seen in other works from this European visit including The Spanish Stairs, Rome, 1897 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).


In late 1897, Hassam returned to New York and helped form the Ten American Painters, an exhibition group consisting of notable American Impressionist artists, including Frank W. Benson, William Merritt Chase, Joseph DeCamp, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Willard Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edward Simmons, Edmund Tarbell, John Henry Twachtman, and Julian Alden Weir. This distinguished group exhibited together in New York between the years of 1898 and 1919, purposely boycotting the Society of American Artists.


Hassam continued to paint the impressive skyscrapers and bustle of life in the city and continued to explore the picturesque towns of New England during the warmer months. He traveled to Gloucester, Appledore Island, and to the artists’ colonies of Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut. Hassam had some of the strongest influence on his contemporaries during his time in Connecticut, 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.