June 10–September 12, 2004
Childe Hassam (1859–1935), the leader of American Impressionism, was the movement's most devoted, prolific, and successful practitioner and promoter. Among the first Americans to catch the spirit of the new French painting, he became the principal Impressionist chronicler of New York City, modern America's most distinctive subject. At the same time, he encoded in his New England scenes the prevailing nostalgia for a simpler, earlier time.
Born in historic Dorchester, Massachusetts, now part of Boston, Hassam was descended from settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. "Hassam" was derived from the English name "Horsham." Early in his career, he discarded his given name, Frederick, in favor of his distinctive middle name.
Hassam's early works, done in and around Boston, announce his lifelong devotion to pastoral scenes and urban views as well as his cheerful outlook and patriotic pride. As an art student in Paris from 1886 to 1889, he was exceptional among his compatriots in adopting French Impressionism's modern subjects and vibrant style.
Settling in New York in 1889, Hassam found in the dynamic city inspiration for experiments with rapid brushwork, a high-keyed palette, and brilliant effects of color and light. Between 1890 and 1919 he went on extended, productive visits to picturesque villages along the New England coast. In 1920 charming East Hampton, New York, became his summer headquarters.
Energetically marketing his immense output of oils, watercolors, pastels, illustrations, and prints, Hassam rode the wave of enthusiasm for American Impressionism to fame and fortune. By the time he died, however, modernism and regionalism had eclipsed the style. Today, the revival of appreciation for American Impressionism that began in the mid-1960s is at a peak, as is Hassam's reputation.