La Fruitière, painted circa 1887-89, is one of Childe Hassam's most engaging and lively treatments of the shops and inhabitants that lined the streets outside his studio in the bustling Montmartre district of Paris. Hassam's use of bold brushwork, applied with thick, rich impasto articulates his subject in a daring and modern way.
In 1886, Hassam, following several years of success in Boston as a painter and watercolorist, set sail for Paris with his wife, Maud. Their first apartment was on the Boulevard Clichy, an area increasingly known for its vibrant nightlife, frequented by the many artists who, like Hassam, took studios in the area. Just off the boulevard, however, a different side of Montmartre revealed itself in the winding, cobbled streets nestled in a hilly enclave beneath the Sacre Coeur. These narrow passages were populated with local inhabitants and the many small vendors of flowers and fruit that would capture Hassam's imagination and result in some of his best Parisian subjects.
Whether inspired by the bold hues that dotted the streets of Monmartre or his exposure to the works of Impressionists, Hassam's style definitively changed during his three year stay in Paris. What began as a trip to study at the Acadèmie Julian, a destination for many American artists to learn the rigorous principles of draftsmanship and anatomy study, turned into a rebellion against the more formal teachings of the Acadèmie. Increasingly, Hassam found himself attracted to the most radical elements in the French artistic community. Barbara Weinberg writes, "Hassam's Parisian works suggest that he was much more inclined than were most of his compatriots to interpret in a personal and vital way the styles of the modern French painters--the artists of the juste-milieu, Impressionists, and Neoimpressionists--and to celebrate urban life. He often brightened his palette, loosened his brushwork, and showed the effects of brilliant sunlight in oils and watercolors that record the spectacle of Paris." (Childe Hassam, American Impressionist, New York, 2004, p. 60) Hassam was particularly drawn towards the cityscapes of artists such as Claude Monet, Gustave Caillebotte and Edouard Manet and to the bustling city life their paintings recorded. By the spring of 1888, Hassam abandoned the Acadèmie Julian altogether, stating: "The Julian Academy is the personification of routine. It is nonsense." (Ulrich Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New York, p. 32)
La Fruitière, with its vivid palette of blues and oranges, embodies the new liberty of expression that defined Hassam's work from the period and is evidence of the sheer delight he took in his surroundings. The refined and controlled tonalist works he had painted in Boston gave way to energetic brushwork, invigorating his canvases with a vitality previously and notably absent from his earlier compositions. The lush, swirling brushstrokes that capture the shop walls and round pumpkins are contrasted with the careful elegance of the central figure. A small burst of red, which depicts the bloom of a rose, clutched in the grasp of the wistful shopkeeper, serves both as the composition's visual anchor and intriguing narrative element, echoing Manet's seminal Un Bar au Folies-Bergères (1886, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London).
In 1889, a few months prior to Hassam's return from Paris, the Boston gallery Noyes & Cobb held an exhibition of his Parisian works, including La Fruitière. The show proved to be a critical and commercial success and The Transcript reviewed the exhibition, stating the works were: "fully of gayety[sic] and brightness [with a] truly Parisian savor. Mr. Hassam has been in Paris two or three years, and his pictures are largely of the streets, gardens and environs of that capital. Since he left Boston, he has made a very noticeable gain, especially in color, and he has never painted so well as now." (as quoted in Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 56)
This painting will be included in Stuart P. Feld and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.
Hassam in Paris, March 1889. Photo by Eugne Pirou. Courtesy of American Academy of Arts & Letters, New York, New York.
Edouard Manet (1832-1883), Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882. Oil on canvas. Photographer: Lutz Braun. Courtauld Institute Galleries, London. Image source: Art Resource, NY.
Studio Building at 11 Boulevard de Clichy, Montmartre, Paris. Photograph source unknown.