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Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
Property from the Estate of Richard J. Schwartz
Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916

Details
Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916
signed and dated 'Childe Hassam May 1916' with artist's crescent device (lower left)
oil on canvas
31 ¼ x 26 ½ in. (79.4 x 67.3 cm.)
Painted in 1916.
Provenance
The artist.
American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, by bequest from the above, 1935.
[With]Milch Galleries, New York, 1958.
Mrs. Charles Buchanan, New York, acquired from the above, 1958.
[With]Bernard Danenberg Galleries, Inc., New York, 1968.
Mr. and Mrs. Peter Gilbert, New York, acquired from the above, 1968.
[With]Wildenstein Galleries, Houston, Texas, 1978.
Mr. George Ablah, Wichita, Kansas, acquired from the above, 1978.
Sotheby's, New York, 20 April 1979, lot 84A, sold by the above.
[With]James Graham & Sons, New York.
Private collection, New Jersey, acquired from the above, 1979.
[With]James Graham & Sons, New York, 1985.
Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1985.
Literature
I. Fort, “The Flag Paintings of Childe Hassam,” The Magazine Antiques, April 1988, pp. 876, 879, 882, pl. I, illustrated.
U. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, p. 156, fig. 176, illustrated.
W. Adelson, J.E. Cantor, W.H. Gerdts, eds., Childe Hassam: Impressionist, New York, 1999, pp. 214-15, no. 225, illustrated.
James Graham & Sons, James Graham & Sons: A Century and a Half in the Art Business, New York, 2007, pp. 35-37, fig. 37, illustrated.
Exhibited
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Exhibition of a Series of Paintings of the Avenue of the Allies by Childe Hassam, November 15-December 7, 1918, no. 21.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Childe Hassam, An Exhibition of Paintings: Flags of All Nations and Painting of the Avenue of the Allies, February 15-April 1, 1919, no. 10 (as Just off the Avenue, Forty-third Street, May 1916).
New York, Milch Galleries, Flag Pictures and Street Scenes by Childe Hassam, May 20, 1919, no. 15.
New York, Church of the Ascension, Parrish House, Patriotic Scenes by Childe Hassam and Verdun Church Relics, October 27-November 27, 1919, no. 15.
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Exhibitions of the Series of Flag Pictures by Childe Hassam, February 7-28, 1922, no. 9.
New York, Bernard Danenberg Galleries, Inc., Childe Hassam: An Exhibition of his "Flag Series" Commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of Armistice Day, November 12-30, 1968, no. 2, illustrated.
New York, Bernard Danenberg Galleries, Inc., Recent Acquisitions--Important American Paintings, Winter 1969, p. 14, no. 26, illustrated.
Tuscon, Arizona, University of Arizona Museum of Art; Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Childe Hassam, 1859-1935, February 5-April 30, 1972, p. 39, no. 98, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum; New York, New-York Historical Society, The Flag Paintings of Childe Hassam, May 8, 1998-June 25, 1999, pp. 32-33, no. 1, illustrated.
New York, Adelson Galleries, Inc.; Houston, Texas, Meredith Long & Company, Childe Hassam: An American Impressionist, November 2, 1999-February 5, 2000, no. 74, illustrated.

Lot Essay

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 series of work depicting flags in New York during World War I are among the most poignant and celebrated works of American Impressionism. Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916 is the first work in the flag series that Hassam painted during the War. The sun-dappled street, trees and façades of the grand brownstones are painted in a vibrant palette characteristic of Hassam’s technique at the height of his abilities. Depicting here a refined residential street in New York--a subject he returned to throughout his career--Hassam showcases decorations for the lively patriotic parade that took place along Fifth Avenue and immerses the viewer in an atmosphere of nationalistic pride.

Hassam’s interest in flag subjects dates back to his time spent in Paris from 1886 to 1889. Inspired by the flags and banners displayed on Bastille Day in the area where he lived, he explored this theme in both watercolor and oil, and perhaps the strongest impetus behind such pictures, both in style and content, was his exposure to the works of the French Impressionists Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. The lingering influence of the French Impressionist style can be seen throughout Hassam's flag series and is evident in the broken brushwork and vivid hues seen in Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916.

Hassam was inspired to produce Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916 and the following flag series by the famous Preparedness Parade of May 13, 1916. This parade was the first important public demonstration of the United States' involvement with Europe just prior to the nation's entry into the War in April 1917. Spanning from Twenty-third Street to Fifty-eighth Street along Fifth Avenue, the parade lasted almost thirteen hours and was comprised of more than 137,000 civilian marchers. During the War, Hassam's studio was located at the end of the parade route at 130 West Fifty-seventh Street, so the artist was in close proximity to the decorative and inspiring displays of American flags which hung from neighboring buildings.

Ulrich Heisinger notes of the present work, “The earliest picture that the artist always included in his exhibitions of Flag pictures, Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-Third Street, May 1916, does not relate to a parade. It shows not Fifth Avenue, but a quiet residential street, bereft of any sense of public celebration and decorated only by a single prominent flag, with a second largely hidden behind a tree. Taken from within a few blocks of Hassam’s house, it is above all else a street scene that evokes the artist’s first days in New York and the genteel urban neighborhoods, such as Washington Square, that he had painted in the early 1890s. The picture suggests that the Flag series was preceded by a revival of Hassam’s interest in the urban scene on terms that he had not entertained for many years.” (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, p. 156)

The row of stately brownstones in the present work is viewed from the southeast corner of Fifty-third Street and Sixth Avenue. The block has since changed dramatically because, in 1939, this location became the site of The Museum of Modern Art. The large tower of Saint Thomas Church can be seen in the background at the corner of Fifty-third Street and Fifth Avenue. After a fire in 1905 destroyed all but the tower of the church, which had included murals by John LaFarge and reliefs by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, it was rebuilt beginning in 1911. The church in its present state was consecrated on April 25, 1916, very shortly before Hassam painted Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916. This notable church was known for its high-society weddings and funerals, and its Easter week reopening just blocks away from his studio may have been known to Hassam when he chose to depict the tower in the following weeks. In the foreground, Hassam highlights a street sweeper in white maintaining this pristine residential neighborhood of the upper class, while the hanging flags suggest the patriotic festivities that occurred at the next intersection.

Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916 is a spirited work from one of the most recognized series of paintings of New York by Hassam, and envelops the revered theme of democracy and liberty in American art. As Dr. William H. Gerdts has noted, “Hassam was already recognized as one of the artists most identified with 'Americanness,' but it was in these works that he was able to give the modern cityscape patriotic and spiritual resonance. This pictorial sequence constitutes one of the greatest achievements of American art.” (“Three Themes: For God and Country,” Childe Hassam: Impressionist, New York, 1999, p. 222)

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