Childe Hassam Biography
Childe Hassam was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, at that time an affluent suburb of Boston. The family was of old Puritan stock and related to architect Richard Morris Hunt and his brother, Barbizon painter William Morris Hunt. As a youth Hassam studied and practiced wood engraving, painted in watercolor, and studied anatomical painting with the venerable William Rimmer at the Lowell Institute in Boston. When he was twenty-two he journeyed to museums throughout Europe and in 1886 commenced a three-year course of study at the Academie Julian in Paris.
Before his departure for Europe he had already attracted attention and displayed his considerable skills with a number of paintings of Dorchester streets. These were freely brushed, tonalist works, poetic depictions of evening light reflected on rain-soaked pavement, with dramatic use of perspective.
But Hassam emerged from his stay in Paris profoundly influenced by the techniques and sensibilities of the impressionist movement. It lightened his palette, encouraged use of the broken brush stroke and the juxtaposition of contrasting hues, and moved him in the direction of becoming the most assertively impressionist of American painters. But unlike many of his French contemporaries, the American insistence on form and contour prevailed in his work. Ironically, Hassam never openly acknowledged his indebtedness to the impressionists, insisting that his artistic lineage descended from Constable, Turner, and Bonington.
On his return to America he settled in New York, where he became a close associate of J. Alden Weir and John Twachtman. Eventually, Weir and Twachtman both purchased rural properties in coastal Connecticut and used their homes as focus for much of their painting. Hassam, however, remained peripatetic, coursing up and down the New England coast, painting what struck his fancy, from Old Lyme, Connecticut, to the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire. In Old Lyme he frequented the boarding house of Florence Griswold, now a museum of the paintings of other young impressionists who boarded there. And there he painted some of his most charming and redolent depictions of the churches, homes, and tree-lined streets of an old New England village.
He also lived and worked at Appledore in the Isle of Shoals at the rambling hotel owned by the resident poetess, horticulturist and doyenne, Celia Thaxter. Years before, Hassam had instructed her in watercolor and now returned summer after summer to exercise his newfound impressionist skills on the rocky coastline, the abundant flora, and Appledore's gracious hostess. It was Thaxter, incidentally, who recommended he use his more romantic and Byronic middle name for professional use.
It was at Hassam's instigation that Twachtman and Weir joined him in founding that loose affiliation, Ten American Painters. Dissatisfied with the size and increasing mediocrity of annual exhibitions of the Society of American Painters, this rather heterogeneous group of New Yorkers and Bostonians chose to exhibit together and continued to do so annually for twenty years.
Around 1910 he essayed a series of decorative interiors posing clothed female figures before windows with outside light seen through translucent curtains.
Hassam devoted the last decade of his life largely to printmaking; he produced etchings, drypoints, and lithographs. At the height of his career, he had ten works accepted for the famed 1913 Armory Show, from which his older colleague, William Merritt Chase had been excluded.