Crocker Art Museum
Childe Hassam in the Crocker Art Museum Collection
By Crocker Curator and Acting Director Janice T. Driesbach
Childe Hassam, An Outdoor Portrait of Miss Weir, 1909, oil on canvas, 38 x 38 inches, Crocker Art Museum Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Vern C. Jones and other generous donors.
Selections from the collection now on view include a painting and a watercolor by Childe Hassam (1859-1935), America's best-known Impressionist painter. It is fitting that the artist be represented by these examples, as he worked in both media throughout his career.
An Outdoor Portrait of Miss Weir, painted in 1909, documents Hassam's mature Impressionist style, and acknowledges his repeated visits to the Isles of Shoals, where America's first offshore resort was established off the coast of New Hampshire. Perhaps best known as a painter of urban scenes, Hassam recorded many of his outdoor subjects on extended stays in Europe or on visits to artists' colonies throughout New England.
Soon after returning from his first trip to Europe in 1883, Hassam traveled to Appledore, one of the Isles of Shoals, where Celia Thaxter (1835 -1894) presided over a coterie of artists, writers, and musicians who gathered there each summer. Thaxter was a poet and the magnificent garden she maintained was the subject of her most enduring work, An Island Garden, published the year of her death with watercolor illustrations by Hassam.
Following his extended stay in France between 1886 and 1889, where he was exposed to Impressionism, Hassam settled in New York, but made visits to Appledore, where he "spent some of my pleasantest summers." Although his close friendship with Thaxter (who persuaded him to drop his given first name "Frederick" in favor of his more exotic middle name Childe) was an impetus for these visits, Hassam returned there following her death as well.
Appledore, where Hassam created nearly ten percent of his paintings and watercolors, is believed to be shown in the background of An Outdoor Portrait of Miss Weir, a rare example of a portrait by the artist. The subject, who was identified only as Portrait Out of Doors. Miss W, when the painting was exhibited in New York in 1926, is now understood to be one of J. Alden Weir's three daughters. Hassam met Weir, a member of a prominent family of American artists, in early 1890.They quickly established a close friendship that was interrupted only by Weir's death in 1919. Weir, who was beginning to explore Impressionism at the time of their introduction, joined Hassam and eight other artists in leaving the conservative Society of American Artists in 1898 to establish The Ten American Artists, an exhibition group modeled on the Impressionists in France.
An Outdoor Portrait of Miss Weir indicates that although Hassam painted directly from nature, used a palette dominated by pastel tones, and employed broken strokes of color to develop his compositions, he nonetheless retained the identity of his subject rather than dissolving it in an envelope of light in the manner of the French Impressionists. Indeed, American Impressionism was distinguished from its European counterpart in holding on to its realist origins. Hassam also began to incorporate Post-Impressionist stylistic devices into his work after 1900, which are reflected in the ambitious portrait, where the brushstrokes resemble blocks of color in many places.
The posed figure in An Outdoor Portrait of Miss Weir
exemplifies the refined women at leisure who dominate the canvases of
other turn-of-the-century Impressionist artists working in Boston and New
York. Fashionably dressed in white, and shown amidst dappled sunlight that
filters through the surrounding foliage, Miss Weir appears at once immobile
and aloof as she gazes away from th.e viewer. Despite the fact that she
occupies the majority of the canvas and her face is modeled with a series
of relatively tight brush strokes (which contrast with the artist's looser
treatment of the figure) little information is conveyed about the sitter's
personality. Rather, Hassam appears more engaged with how to contrast Miss
Weir's figure to and integrate it with the rather elaborate yet undefined
outdoors view against which she is placed. The challenge Hassam confronted
may explain why he later added a strip of canvas to the right side of the
painting, enlarging the composition, and retained An Outdoor Portrait
of Miss Weir throughout his lifetime.
The challenge Hassam confronted may explain why he later added a strip of canvas to the right side of the painting, enlarging the composition, and retained An Outdoor Portrait of Miss Weir throughout his lifetime.
An artist who relied on the sale of his paintings as his
sole source of income, Hassam achieved considerable success during his lifetime.
Among the honors he received was an invitation to display his art work in
a separate room at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which was
held in San Francisco in 1915. The artist came west to view the exhibition
and spend time painting. After his return to the East, he painted On
the Palisades, whose title refers to a well-known geologic feature along
the Hudson River. In this view, rendered from the Palisades towards New
York City, Hassam now looked toward the home where he died in 1935, still
the dean of the American Impressionist school.
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
This page was originally published in 1998 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
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