We would like to thank the Hassam catalogue raisonné committee for their assistance with cataloguing this work.
This painting will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.
Childe Hassam’s paintings of street scenes decorated in flags are enduring visual testaments of national pride and democratic ideals. While the artist expressed his own American patriotism in his later works depicting flags soaring down Fifth Avenue in New York during World War I, his fascination with flag subjects began much earlier, while abroad in France in the 1880s. During this period, Hassam painted Bastille Day, Boulevard Rochechouart, Paris, which was inspired by the street life of Paris that had become the central theme of his art during his time there. With passages of staccato brushwork, and a sophisticated command of color, atmosphere and light, the present work represents one of Hassam's early successful forays into Impressionism and one of his earliest flag subjects.
Hassam moved to Paris in 1886, where he would stay for three years, with the intent of “refining his talent in the larger crucible of contemporary art.” (D.F. Hoopes, Childe Hassam, New York, 1982, p. 13) While in Paris, Hassam began his studies at the Académie Julian. However, his experience at the school was not entirely to his liking, finding more routine and conformity in its method than innovation. In time he would reject it altogether and by 1888, Hassam stopped attending the Academy in order to refine the tenets of Impressionism on his own. Bastille Day, Boulevard Rochechouart, Paris captures Hassam's innovative melding of contemporary styles and his fascination with the everyday scenes unfolding around him.
Bastille Day, what English-speaking countries call the French National Day, or La Fête Nationale, observes the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, an important battle in the French Revolution. The Bastille was a prison that held political dissidents and the fortress came to symbolize the autocratic monarchy. Shortly after the Bastille was overtaken by common Parisians, feudalism was demolished and several weeks later, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was proclaimed. The present painting from 1889 marks the centennial of the battle, which was a significant celebration in the French capital. Rather than display a lively festival though, Hassam has chosen to depict a market street in his own neighborhood of Montmartre, where women stroll seemingly as part of their everyday routine. The flags hanging above the figures are paramount, taking up much of the upper right portion of the composition. By emphasizing the flags in this quiet vignette, the artist implies the patriotic fervor that was found elsewhere throughout the city on this milestone date.
Bastille Day, Boulevard Rochechouart, Paris finds precedent in paintings of street scenes decorated with flags by the French Impressionists, including Édouard Manet and Claude Monet, of which Hassam was likely familiar. There was a period from 1871-77, following the end of the Franco-Prussian War, where decorations and large gatherings, such as Bastille Day celebrations, were banned in France to discourage antigovernment protests. Ilene Fort notes, “The 1878 festivities signified that the government of the Third Republic was stable and that the country was again on the road to material and cultural progress. The celebrations were on a grand scale during which, according to newspaper accounts and illustrations, buildings disappeared under a flurry of banners.” (The Flag Paintings of Childe Hassam, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles, California, 1988, pp. 83-84) Both Manet and Monet painted street scenes decorated with flags during this lively reincarnation of the tradition in 1878 for the Fête de la Paix (Celebration of Peace). Hassam may have had the opportunity to see Monet’s The Rue Montorgueil, Festival of June 30, 1878 (1878, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France) in Paris when it was exhibited in the early summer of 1889 at the Galerie Georges Petit. This work by Monet is a large vertical canvas looking down a crowded, lively avenue from a high vantage point—compositionally it is similar to the flag paintings Hassam would create decades later of Fifth Avenue. Bastille Day, Boulevard Rochechouart, Paris is more similar in subject to Manet’s quiet street scene The Rue Mosnier, Paris, Decorated with Flags (1878, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California), which is also a ground level vantage point dappled with flags.
In Bastille Day, Boulevard Rochechouart, Paris, Hassam depicts a momentary, quotidian scene on what was a momentous holiday for the French people. Nevertheless, this everyday vignette is energized through lively brushstrokes in golds, greens, and of course, red, white and blue. The color, light and atmosphere of the work is infused with a restrained sense of movement, indicative of a quieter neighborhood of the city. Applying his inimitable style to an urban view, Hassam brings together the essential elements which would come to define his greatest achievements in American Impressionism.