The success of Childe Hassam's metropolitan views of Boston, New York and Paris from the late nineteenth century is attributed to his fascination in observing the vitality of city life and the artist's unique style of rendering composition, color, light and atmosphere. The present painting, Rainy Day, typifies the best of his city street scenes combining his interest in painting atmospheric effects with the bright palette of the Impressionists.
Childe Hassam's recognition began while living in Boston, where the artist concentrated on painting images of Boston streets at twilight, often on rainy days or illuminated by artificial light. In 1884, Hassam was married and he and his wife, Maude, moved to an apartment on Columbus Avenue near Back Bay. "Whether he chose to live on Columbus Avenue because he wished to investigate it pictorially or whether he was moved to paint such urban scenes because he lived there is not known." (W.H. Gerdts, Childe Hassam Impressionist, New York, 1999, p. 129) Exploring Boston's fashionable West End by the Charles River inspired Hassam to begin portraying the expanding city. "These new surroundings inspired a momentous change of direction in Hassam's painting as, for the first time, he began to explore the subject of modern city life. 'I lived in Columbus Avenue in Boston,' he said later. 'The street was all paved in asphalt, and I used to think it very pretty when it was wet and shining, and caught the reflections of passing people and vehicles. I was always interested in the movements of humanity in the street, and I painted my first picture from my window.'" (U.W. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, p. 21)
In 1886, Hassam moved to Paris 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 there, Hassam studied at the Académie Julian though his experience at the school was neither favorable nor beneficial to his art. Hassam wrote: "The Julian Academy is the personification of routine...It is nonsense. It crushes all originality out of the growing men." (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 32) Working independently of the Académie, Hassam learned his most important artistic lessons on his own. While in Paris, Hassam's style changed dramatically from that of his early work in Boston. He no longer painted in a dark, tonal style, having replaced it with bright light and color and the short brushstrokes of the Impressionists. Hassam, however, consistently rejected the classification of Impressionist. Donaldson F. Hoopes writes: "If the search for the equivalent in paint of the light of nature involved borrowing some of the Impressionists' innovations, then he borrowed, but at no time in his career did Hassam subordinate the emotional content of the represented image to a supremacy of color or technique." (Childe Hassam, p. 13)
To Hassam, his style was not about the importance of color and light but of "the impression which nature makes upon the eye and brain." (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 75) Discussing the importance of "the ability to recreate the way people actually looked at and experienced the world," Hassam noted, "'I cannot imagine,' he said, 'how a man who sees fifty feet into a picture can paint the eyes and noses of figures at that distance. I should call such a painting a good piece of work--yes, good scientific work; but I should not call it good art. Good art is, first of all, true. If you looked down a street and saw at one glance a moving throng of people, say fifty or one hundred feet away, it would not be true that you would see the details of their features or dress. Any one who paints a scene of that sort, and gives you such details, is not painting from the impression he gets on the spot, but from preconceived ideas he has formed from sketching studio models and figures near at hand. Such a man is an analyst, not an artist.'" (as quoted in Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 74)
The moment Hassam has captured in Rainy Day is of a city street during a rain shower. "As he later confirmed, Hassam was particularly fond of scenes of rainy days and nights, when the streets were shrouded in mist, and lights and shadows were reflected everywhere in the gleaming surfaces." (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 21) In order to give the present painting the feeling of walking through the rain, here Hassam uses broad brushstrokes, particularly in the sky and the wet sidewalk painted in muted blues and pinks. By enveloping the church spire in a veil of gray mist, Hassam has given the work a strong atmospheric effect. The artist's fascination with wet pavement that began on Columbus Avenue in Boston is juxtaposed in the silvery mirrored images of the figures and lampposts along the sidewalk, with short brushstrokes and bright colors, Hassam gives texture to the buildings and the bill covered walls.
In Hassam's urban compositions, the artist often used strong linear perspective. For spatial effect, the artist has placed one woman on the sidewalk in the immediate foreground. This woman, "epitomizes Hassam's method of using a solitary 'leading' figure to mark the visual entry point of his compositions...Hassam... likened the portrait of a city to that of a person, with the artist striving to capture 'not only the superficial resemblance, but the inner self. The spirit...the soul of a city.'" (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 65)
Rainy Day captures the spontaneity of Hassam's style, as well as the vividness of color which typify his best urban views. In discussing Hassam's success, the critic Theodore Child, described the artist as, "one who possessed, 'delicate faculties of vision, and a sensitiveness to the values of objects in ambient atmosphere.'" (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 34)
This painting will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's works.