Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935) Part III

In 1913, Hassam was honored with a separate gallery showing at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition featuring thirty-eight pictures. Around 1915, he renewed his interest in etching and lithography, producing more than 400 of these works during his later career; but while artistically satisfying, they achieved only so-so public acceptance, as he commented, “some sell and some of the best do not.”

The most distinctive and famous works of his later life compose the set of about thirty paintings known as the “Flag series”, which he began in 1916 when he was inspired by a “Preparedness Parade” (for the American involvement in World War I) held on Fifth Avenue in New York (renamed the “Avenue of the Allies” during the Liberty Loan Drives of 1918). Thousands participated in these parades which often lasted for over twelve hours. ”

Being a avid Francophile, of English ancestry, and strongly anti-Germany, Hassam enthusiastically backed the Allied cause and the protection of French culture. The Hassams joined with other artists in the war relief effort from nearly the beginning of the conflict in 1914, when most Americans as well as President Woodrow Wilson were decidedly isolationist. He even had in mind to volunteer to go to Europe to record the war, but the government would not approve the trip. He was even arrested (and quickly released) for innocently sketching naval maneuvers along the city’s rivers. As well as the time he gave to many committees, several of the flag pictures were contributed to the war relief, and he accepted Liberty Bonds in payment for one. Although he had great hopes that the entire series would sell as a war memorial set (for $100,000), the pictures were sold individually after several group exhibitions, the last at the Corcoran Gallery in 1922.

Monet, among other French artists, had also painted flag-themed works, but Hassam’s have a distinctly American character, displayed on New York’s most fashionable street with his own compositional style and artistic vision. In most paintings in the series, the flags dominate the foreground, while in others the flags are simply part of the festive panorama. In some, the American flags wave alone and in others, flags of the Allies flutter as well. In his most impressionistic painting in the series, The Avenue in the Rain (1917), the flags and their reflections are blurred so extremely as to appear to be viewed through a rain-smeared window. His flag paintings cover all seasons and various weather and light conditions. Hassam makes a patriotic statement without overt reference to parades, soldiers, or war, apart for one picture showing a flag exclaiming “Buy Liberty Bonds”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Historical Society, and the National Gallery of Art all own a Hassam flag painting.

In 1919, Hassam purchased a home in East Hampton, New York. Many of his late paintings employed nearby subjects in that town and on Long Island. The post-war art market boomed in the 1920’s, and Hassam commanded escalating prices, though some critics thought he had became static and repetitive, as American art had begun to move on to the Realism of the Ashcan School and artists like Edward Hopper and Robert Henri. In 1920, he received the Gold Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and numerous other awards through the 1920’s. Hassam traveled relatively little in his last years, but did visit California, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. He died in East Hampton in 1935, at age 75.

To the end, he denounced modern trends in art, and he termed “art boobys” all the painters, critics, collectors, and dealers who got on the bandwagon and promoted Cubism, Surrealism and other avant-garde movements.” From his death until a revival of interest in American Impressionism in the 1960’s, Hassam was considered among the “abandoned geniuses”. As French Impressionist paintings reached stratospheric prices in the 1970’s, Hassam and other American Impressionists gained renewed interest and were bid up as well.


See the beginning of this article in part I, part II

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