Childe Hassam 1859 - 1935
- Childe Hassam
Paris, Winter Day
- signed Childe Hassam and dated Paris 1887, l.r.
- oil on canvas
John Caldwell, Edgewood, Pennsylvania, until 1905
Estate of John Caldwell (Brown Caldwell, executor), 1910
Mrs. Brown Caldwell, Winnetka, Illinois, by 1933
Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, Winnetka, Illinois
By descent in the family (their granddaughter), 1954
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, May 22, 2008, lot 51, illustrated in color, estimate: $2,500,000-3,500,000; realized $3,961,000
Ulrich W. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, illustrated in color p. 36 (as Street Scene with Hansom Cab)
The November 1886 edition of Art Amateur magazine contained a notice that "Childe Hassam, the audacious and brilliant watercolorist and landscapist," would be going off to Paris for three years of study (quoted in Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 2004, p. 53). As the ad indicates, Hassam had already established himself in Boston as a successful illustrator and watercolorist when he set sail for his extended stay abroad. By this time, the twenty-seven year old artist was intent on becoming a full-time painter, and putting the finishing touches on his academic training in Paris. Hassam first lived in an apartment with a large studio on the Boulevard de Clichy; moving just down the road to a larger flat one year later. The Clichy district where Hassam lived lay between two worlds with the rural streets of Montmartre to the north and the grand Haussmann designed boulevards and fashionable arrondissements to the south. Hassam was one of many American artists for whom it had become de rigueur to study abroad at the Paris academies. He studied for a year and a half at the Académie Julian, a popular school that attracted young artists from all over the world.
A few months after arriving in Paris, Hassam wrote to William Howe Downes about the "little Paris thing of the streets," and confidently asserted that he had "unquestionably arrived at my selection of subjects" (quoted in Childe Hassam, American Impressionist, 1994, p. 177). Despite its charms, few American students produced views of the bustling French capitol; a choice due, in part, to the pressures of the local academies who did not encourage the depiction of urban subject matter. Hassam had begun painting scenes of urban Boston, after moving to its South End in 1884, and in Paris, along with the French Impressionists, challenged convention by featuring contemporary urban life. Familiar aspects of the city such as busy pedestrians and carriage drivers moving through atmospheric conditions remained ubiquitous elements in Hassam's work for the rest of his career. In an interview given to Art Amateur a few years after his return from Paris, Hassam quipped, "there is no end of material in the cabbies ... They live so much in their clothes, that they get to be like thin shells, and take on every angle and curve of their tempers as well as their forms. They interest one immensely." In 1888, an important art critic, George William Sheldon opined in his Recent Ideals of American Art that "The only American who makes a practice of painting life in the cities—in the parks, in the streets, and on the house-tops—is Mr. Childe Hassam.... It is in the cities that he chiefly finds his subjects, where the women in out-door costumes are not less charming, and where the correlated atmospheric effects appeal to the artist's pencil. Mr. Hassam's pictures tell interesting stories and at the same time record the most delicate play of light and shade" (quoted in Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 2004, p. 78).
In Paris, Winter Day Hassam employs a limited palette of cool whites, greys, and pinks that recall his earlier tonalist works such as Boston Common at Twilight, ca. 1885-1886 and A City Fairyland, 1886. In the Boston images, Hassam uses neutral white and blonde tones to evoke the atmosphere of stark winter days at sunset. Weinberg has noted that Hassam's "cityscapes of the mid-1880s show strong affinities with the work of conservative artists of the juste-milieu," particularly Giuseppe de Nittis and Jean Béraud, "who combined Impressionist subject matter with more traditional academic techniques." She adds that these artists would have been "appropriate models to adapt for [Hassam's] conservative Boston audience, which until the later 1880s usually rejected Impressionism in favor of Barbizon-style landscapes" (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 2004, p. 44-5).
While Hassam used a relatively quiet tonalist palette in Paris, Winter Day, the brushwork reveals the transforming effects of his stay in Paris. The snow, carriage driver, and pedestrians along the left side of the image are rendered with livelier strokes than in Hassam's earlier work. This more energetic, impressionistic technique appears in other Parisian images such as April Showers, Champs Elysees where Hassam applies vigorous brushwork to enliven the grey tones of the reflective, wet pavement. Though much of the artist's later work would be marked by a high-keyed palette and loose brushwork, Paris, Winter Day represents Hassam's "stylistic position between the avant-garde and the academy."