In the Sun is a newly discovered work painted in 1888 during one of the most formative periods of Childe Hassam's career. 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 (Barbara Weinberg, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 2004, p. 53). By this time, Hassam had already established himself in Boston, and he set sail for an extended stay abroad, seeking to finish formal artistic training. Lured to Paris to gain experience in the principles taught under the French Academic system, Hassam enrolled at the Académie Julian in 1886. Despite working under such influential instructors as Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre, he found the academic experience stifling. As Hassam wrote, "The Julian Academy is the personification of routine... It is nonsense, it crushes all originality of the growing man. It tends to put them in a rut and it keeps them in it" (Ulrich Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 1994, p. 32).
In the summer of 1887 Hassam and a group of American artists made their first visit to Giverny. Hassam's stylistic interests soon evolved away from the dark tonalist character and muted palette of his earlier Boston pictures, dramatically shifting toward the richly colored palette, brilliant light and lively brushwork that animate In the Sun. By the spring of 1888, Hassam stopped attending the voluntary classes at the Académie Julian and began working independently. With the exception of a trip to England in 1889, Hassam and his wife, Maud, spent all of their time abroad either in Paris or in the nearby countryside, most notably Villiers-le-Bel.
The artist and his wife made their first trip to Villiers-le-Bel, a small rural town located about ten miles northeast of Paris, in the summer of 1888. They stayed with their friends the Blumenthals, on a piece of property once belonging to the painter Thomas Couture, Manet's teacher. Ulrich Hiesinger writes, "Hassam first mentions [Villiers-le-Bel] in a letter to a friend vacationing on the Isles of Shoals in June 1888. 'I wish we were at the Shoals for this summer...but we will really go to Villiers-le-Bel and I shall paint in a charming old French garden" (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 1994, p. 50). The Blumenthals' walled garden, which included terraces, flower beds, winding paths, and benches set beneath trees, was the subject of more than two dozen paintings by the artist and his first sustained treatment of the garden theme. Barbara Weinberg writes, "The garden scenes Hassam painted at the Blumenthals' country retreat anticipate, generally, his tendency to create works in series and, more specifically, his later images of Thaxter's Appledore Island garden... In [the Blumenthals'] walled formal gardens Hassam painted a series of works showing both servants, who were the suburban counterparts of his Parisian flower vendors, and more privileged women, including his wife, Maud" (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 2004, p. 76).
At the center of In the Sun sits Maud, a radiant evocation of feminine beauty, with her delicate features and softly blushed cheeks and lips. A yellow fan shields Maud's face from the sun while her white, sun dappled dress partially conceals her sleeping canine companion, Sissy. By leaving a portion of the canvas exposed and inscribing Sissy's name, a unique element in the artist's oeuvre, Hassam pays gentle homage to their pet dog. With impressionist brushstrokes, Hassam fills the light-filled foreground with an array of modulated white, cream, pink and blue pigments. Around the terrace, Hassam displays a dramatic range of sun to shadow, reflecting on the various surfaces of the wall, Maud's dress, the red blossoms of the geraniums, and purple of the lilacs.
Hassam's time in Paris produced a number of exceptional works that display his impressionist staccato brushwork and In the Sun represents one of his most remarkable achievements. Ulrich Hiesinger writes, "On leaving Paris, Hassam had every reason to feel satisfied with his accomplishments...Hassam had seen his name and reputation steadily increase at home. He received admiring attention in art journals and press reviews. He had even managed to keep selling his work all the while. If he was still not well known, let alone famous, he had certainly moved far beyond the small world of Boston to join the international ranks of professionals worthy of serious attention" (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 1994, p. 58).
At roughly midnight on July 2nd, 1976 three armed thieves broke into a Massachusetts home and ransacked the house. With no car of their own, the thieves packed up artwork, notably Childe Hassam's In the Sun and Gustav Courbet's The Shore of Lake Geneva, rugs, silverware and other valuables into the 1968 Ford sedan of the home's caretaker. The stolen car turned up a day later abandoned near the Rhode Island border. Despite a massive probe by federal, state and local authorities, the thieves were never caught. Miraculously, the paintings were recovered by the FBI almost 31 years later in March 2007. In July 2008, a federal judge in Rhode Island entered an order that the heirs of the Massachusetts family were the rightful owners and the paintings were returned to the family. After their recovery, the heir's children generously lent the paintings to the Worcester Art Museum for exhibition.
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