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Friday, December 3, 2010

Importing Impression

From time to time in reading various art-related articles a name pops up that is totally foreign to me.  I ask myself, "Why haven't I heard of this artist before?"  Usually it's because of the individual's obscurity. Sometimes, the reason is much more inexplicable. Recently the name Childe Hassam showed up on a list of the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction by American artists. The first four on the list, as one might expect, were instantly recognizable.  Hassam, number five, was not.  His floral still-life was listed at something over six million dollars if memory serves me right. Any painter whoes work is capable of bringing that kind of price at auction I want to know about.   
Washington Arch,
1893, Childe Hassam
Childe Hassam was born in 1859 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He began his career drawing and cutting woodblocks for commercial illustrations. He attended Boston Art club and the Lowell Institute. By the 1880s he had his own studio in Boston. His palette was somber, his vignettes of city anecdotal and loaded with interesting details.  During the late 1880s he toured Europe for three years, bringing back the prevailing Impressionist style to this country. His painting Washington Arch, 1893 looks like how Pissarro might have painted Washington Square Park. There are tiny brushstrokes and light, bright, flickering colors full of gaiety and lighthearted city life at a time when living in cities was still a pleasant, fun-filled experience. Later in life, his work took on a more expressionistic tone as seen in Church at Old Lyme from 1905, perhaps as a result of exposure to the work of Van Gogh and Gauguin.   

Church at Old Lyme, 1905,
Childe Hassam
However, lest you think Hassam was one of the first to bring Impressionism to this country, the fact of the matter is he was only one of several. Paris and Munich were must-see landmarks for the American painter on a Grand Tour of Europe, as the old tradition was known in the late 1800s. It was sort of a capstone encounter for every educated gentleman and painters were no exception. American art is decidedly richer for it. Among the earliest to import Impressionism to these shores was Julian Alden Weir who returned again and again to Paris, studying under masters as diverse as Gerome and Monet. Theodore Robinson followed a similar course, painting with Monet in Giverny. So did Ohio Artist John Twachtman and Cecilia Beaux. Though there were others, this handful was the most responsible for the importation and distribution of that heady French Impressionist vintage art collectors pay so dearly to imbibe today.  

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