Frederick Childe Hassam

Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935) was a pioneer American impressionist painter whose work always retained a definitely native flavor.

Childe Hassam was born in Dorchester, Mass., on Oct. 17, 1859. He was early interested in art, and instead of going to college he went to work in a wood engraver's shop in Boston. Those were the great days of American illustration, and soon his work appeared in all kinds of magazines. During the evenings he drew nudes at the Boston Arts Club, and on weekends he worked outdoors with landscape painters. He soon had his own studio and his own students.

In 1883 Hassam went to Europe for a year. On his return he married a childhood friend, Kathleen Maude Doane. The couple moved to Paris for 3 years, where Hassam earned a good living doing magazine illustrations and painting pictures which he sent home to dealers. His early Paris street scenes are among his finest works. He continued studying, at the Académie Julian, but his painting, propelled by the rising wind of impressionism, soon veered away from the academic.

Hassam easily absorbed the bright colors, the white light, and the pale palette of impressionism. His main concern from this time on was light; his figures, not his best work, are flat patterns, and even his excellent etchings are studies in light. The striking results of his interest in light are best seen in his paintings of landscapes, rocky coasts, and the white churches of Gloucester and East Hampton.

As soon as he could, Hassam devoted himself entirely to painting. He early received honors—a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition (1889) and a silver medal at Munich (1892). A born painter, he certainly enjoyed painting more than anything else. However, he was somewhat touchy about his debt to the French impressionists, insisting that the modern movement in painting was founded on John Constable, William Turner, and Richard Bonington. But the fact is that he painted more like Claude Monet than did Theodore Robinson, who was Monet's avowed disciple; and Hassam's work was far more derivative than Alden Weir's or John Twachtman's, and hence, possibly, all the easier to understand and accept.

Hassam never gave up painting the figure, particularly after he settled in New York in 1889. His colorful New York is not unrelated to Camille Pissarro's Paris, and his famous flag series is heavily dependent on Édouard Manet's influence. Hassam was a member of "The Ten" and a regular exhibitor at the Carnegie International and at the annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy.

Hassam was a large, red-faced gentleman, proud of his New England ancestry. His life was without trials. He was lively and cheerful, rather aggressive and outgoing. He died in East Hampton, Long Island, on Aug. 27, 1935, leaving all his work to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Further Reading on Frederick Childe Hassam

Adeline Adams, Childe Hassam (1938), is an indispensable study of Hassam. Hassam is discussed in James Thomas Flexner, Nineteenth Century American Painting (1970).

Additional Biography Sources

Hoopes, Donelson F., Childe Hassam, New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1988.