Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

Sailing on Calm Seas

Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
Sailing on Calm Seas
signed and dated 'Childe Hassam 1900' (lower left)
oil on canvas
20 x 24¼ in. (50.8 x 61.6 cm.)
W.T. Cresmer, Glencoe, Illinois, until 1955.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Lazarus, acquired from the above.
Charlotte Lazarus Witkind and Richard J. Witkind, by descent.
Estate of the above.
Sotheby's, New York, 19 May 2004, lot 32.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Childe Hassam: 1859-1935, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1964, n.p., no. 25.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Childe Hassam, February 18-March 7, 1964, no. 25.
Sale room notice
Please note the provenance should read, "Mr. and Mrs. Fred Lazarus."

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Lot Essay

Childe Hassam had visited Gloucester, on the Cape Ann peninsula in Massachusetts, intermittently since his early student days. Like other visiting artists, he usually rented a studio in East Gloucester, a populous commercial and residential district a few miles away from the town center and connected by electric tram to the main railway. It was from this vantage point that he painted his most characteristic panoramas of the harbor and town.

Hassam's early depictions of Gloucester focused on the bustling townspeople and the flurry of activity surrounding the marina. Near the turn of the century, however, following two productive and stylistically innovative European sojourns, Hassam's depictions of this seaside town shifted towards spare, and increasingly modern, reductions of the landscape. Ulrich Hiesinger notes, "It was during this visit [of 1899] that Hassam began to envision the Gloucester landscape in a fundamentally new way, replacing fragmentary incidents and scenery with enduring realities expressed in sweeping panoramas of the harbor and town. These have come to be regarded as his quintessential Gloucester views, unrivalled for their breadth, complexity and delicate atmospheric effect." (Childe Hassam, New York, 1994, p. 122). Sailing on Calm Seas, painted in 1900, is the culmination of this new aesthetic direction.

At the turn of the century Gloucester was thriving both commercially and culturally. "Yet Gloucester seemed relatively resistant to the twentieth-century forces of change and even to the upheavals that tourism would create, perhaps because of the specific and peculiar character of the town's long association with seafaring and because fisheries and supporting industries continued to flourish here. Gloucester's combination of healthy industry and growing resort activity was seen to reflect an ideal American vision. 'Gloucester,' said a writer in 1908, 'is one of the most delightful playgrounds in existence, and we believe that that fact comes pretty near to determining its future. Still we think that work is always the best background for play, and is itself the most interesting thing in the world, and every true lover of Gloucester will hope to see industry and beauty develop hand in hand, as they always should.' Manifesting the dual energies of work and recreation and offering reassuring echoes of the American past, Gloucester would seem to have been a perfect venue for the turn-of-the-century American painters of modern life." (H.B. Weinberg, D. Bolger, D.P. Curry, American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885-1915, New York, 1994, p. 125)

Sailing on Calm Seas is a serene yet aesthetically rigorous depiction of the clear blue waters of Gloucester harbor. By eliminating the foreground, Hassam focuses on the expanse of the sea inhabited only by a sailboat and small skiff. Through deft handling of steady yet broken brushstrokes, Sailing on Calm Seas becomes a brilliant Impressionist display. His sophisticated handling of paint combined with a jewel-like palette emphasizes Hassam's focus on atmospheric effects. Hassam wrote: "The sort of atmosphere they like to see in a picture they couldn't breathe in for two minutes. I like air that is breathable. They are fond of that rich brown tone in a painting. Well I am not because it is not true. There is nothing so beautiful as truth. This blue that I see in the atmosphere is beautiful, because it is one of this conditions of this wonderful nature all about us. If you are looking toward any distant object, there will be between you and that object air, and the deeper and denser the volume of air, the bluer it will be." (Childe Hassam, p. 75) Nowhere is this quest for a pure depiction of the atmosphere he sought to capture as successful than in Sailing on Calm Seas, a thoroughly modern distillation of the effects of sunlight on calm blue waters.

This work will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.

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