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Childe
Hassam

United States 
1859−1935
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Biography and information

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Frederick Childe Hassam (17 October 1859, Dorchester, Massachusetts — 27 August 1935, Long Island, New York) was one of the most prominent representatives of American Impressionism.

Peculiar features of Childe Hassam's art: Like the French Impressionists, he devoted whole cycles of his works to his favourite themes; such are his Flags series and paintings created on the Island of Shoals; he was the master of the urban landscape.

Famous paintings of Child Hassam: Allies Day, May 1917, Sunset at Sea, Spring in Central Park.

The pioneer of American Impressionism, Childe Hassam, became the most prolific (more than 2,000 oil paintings) and successful New World impressionist during his lifetime. Hassam is best known to the public for The Avenue in the Rain from the Flags  series, which was acquired for the permanent collection of the White House by the administration of President Kennedy. Barack Obama chose this painting to decorate the oval office when he assumed the presidency.

Frederick Childe Hassam was born in Dorchester, Boston’s largest neighbourhood. Frederick’s father was a successful merchant with a cutlery shop and a large collection of paintings and antiques. His mother, Rose, a native of Maine, was related to the classic of American literature Nathaniel Hawthorne. Influenced by his entourage, Hassam developed his interest in art in early childhood. He received his first lessons in watercolour painting while studying at Mather School, but his parents did not pay attention to his nascent talent for a long time.

In November 1872, a catastrophic fire destroyed much of Boston’s commercial district, where business of Hassam’s father was located. Eager to support his family, the young man dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and rejected the offer of Uncle Frederick (the one whose name the future artist used) to pay for his studies at Harvard. Instead, his father gave him a job as an accounting clerk at Little, Brown & Company. At the same time, Hassam began to study the art of engraving and found work as a woodcarver. The first experiments of Hassam in the oil painting technique date back to 1879, although he preferred watercolour for a long time, working mainly in the open air.

In the early 1880s, Frederick Childe Hassam began freelance collaborations with Harper’s Weekly, Scribner’s Monthly and The Century. He specialized in illustrating children’s stories and in 1882, he opened his own studio. He also continued to perfect his technique by attending the Boston Art Club and the Lowell Institute painting classes (a division of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

The first solo exhibition of Hassam’s watercolour paintings took place in 1883, at the Williams & Everett Gallery in Boston, where he was yet presented under his full name. Later, Hassam’s friend Celia Thaxter persuaded Frederick Childe to drop the first part of his name. Since that time, the artist subscribed exclusively as Childe Hassam, he went down in history under this name. Then he began to add a crescent moon in front of his signature. The meaning of this symbol still remains mysterious. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the distant ancestors of Hassam were Muslim Arabs.

Together with his friend (and Boston Art Club member) Edmund Garrett, the artist made a study tour in Europe in the summer of 1883, where he painted watercolour landscapes of the countryside and studied the works of the Old Masters and famous contemporaries. Hassam was especially impressed by the paintings of William Turner. William Turner. The 67 watercolours that Hassam created during the trip served as the basis for his second exhibition.

After a long courtship that lasted several years, in February 1884, Hassam married Kathleen Maude Doane. Throughout their life, she kept house and organized trips, since Hassam travelled a lot, but little is known about their personal life. At the same time, the artist began painting cityscapes, one of the first paintings of this genre is Boston Common at Twilight.

A constant thirst for improvement made Hassam to return to Paris with his wife to improve his oil painting skills. The money was sufficient, and in 1886 the couple was able to hire a respectable apartment and studio with a maid near Place Pigalle, in the centre of Parisian artistic life. Hassam entered the Julian Academy, where he studied under the guidance of Gustave Boulanger and Jules Joseph Lefebvre. In 1889, the artist participated in the World Exhibition, where he exhibited four paintings and won a bronze medal.

The Hassam family returned to the United States in 1889 and settled in New York. In a one-room apartment at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 17th Street, he opened his studio. There he created one of his most favourite paintings, Fifth Avenue in Winter.

Hassam’s close friends were American Impressionists Julian Alden Weir and John Henry Twachtman, whom he met in art communities. The fourth in their company was the artist Theodore Robinson, known primarily for his correspondence with Claude Monet, who lived at that time in Giverny. The artistic influence of the French Impressionists on all the named artists can hardly be overestimated. Subsequently, this four became the core of American impressionism.

Each summer, Hassam worked in locations typical of the Impressionists, such as the largest of the Appledore Islands in New Hampshire. Many artists found inspiration there. The social life on the island centred around the salon of the poet Celia Thaxter. Hassam’s love for these islands (and possibly for Celia herself) was the reason to come back there again and again for 30 years. When his friend died suddenly in 1894, Hassam painted The Room of Flowers in her honour, depicting Celia’s living room.

In 1887, the Impressionists separated from the Society of American Artists. Hassam was its active participant and initiated the creation of a new association known as Ten. Their debut exhibition took place at the Durand-Ruel Gallery (a year earlier, the famous art dealer opened the New York branch of his gallery). There Hassam presented seven works. Although critics crucified the artist’s new works, called them experimental and completely incomprehensible. Because of Hassan’s radicalism, the Ten felt constantly under pressure.

Hassam was shrewd in promoting his work, therefore his paintings appeared in the museums in the United States and abroad very soon. Despite critics and conservative buyers (impressionism experienced difficulties taking root in America), dealers continued to be interested in his art, and Hassam never lived in poverty. For example, he did not have to teach for a piece of bread like many of his colleagues. Three decades after the first exhibitions in France and the beginning of the new century, Impressionism finally gained its legitimacy in the American art community, and Hassam’s work began to be acquired by major museums and received awards. In 1906, Hassam was elected an academician of the National Academy of Design.

After a brief period of depression and alcoholism as part of an apparent midlife crisis, at forty-five, Hassam made a commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle. He felt spiritual and artistic rejuvenation, and there were much less urban subjects previously characteristic of Hassam in his work at this time. This indicated that Hassam felt tired from the life in the metropolis, which he had enjoyed so much earlier.


The most distinctive and famous works of the later stages of Hassam’s life are thirty paintings known as the Flag series. The series began in 1916, while its predecessor was the July fourteenth, Rue Daunou painting. Hassam’s Flags cover all seasons, weather and light conditions, and the Allies Day, May 1917 is considered the best picture in the series.

In 1919, Hassam purchased a home in the East Hampton; many of his later paintings depicted the vicinity of Long Island. The artist’s popularity grew: in 1920, he received the Gold Medal of Honour for his contribution to the arts from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he also received many official awards in the following years. Hassam travelled relatively little during his last years, choosing North America for travel. He died at his home on 27 August 1935, at the age of 75. Hassam bequeathed the proceeds from the sale of still unsold paintings to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Written by Oleg Vybyvanets


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