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

The Cathedral and Fifth Avenue in June

Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
The Cathedral and Fifth Avenue in June
signed and dated 'Childe Hassam./June/1893' (lower left)--signed with initials and dated again (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
20¼ x 14 in. (51.4 x 35.6 cm.)
The artist.
William Macbeth, Inc., New York, by 1919.
James G. Shepherd, 1919.
Sale: American Art Association, New York, 7 November 1935, no. 44.
Mrs. Francis Garvan.
Private collection, Connecticut, by descent.
Christie's, New York, 26 May 1999, lot 31.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
(Probably) Doll & Richards, Exhibition and Private Sale of Oil Paintings by Mr. Childe Hassam, exhibition catalogue, Boston, Massachusetts, 1895, n.p., no. 20.
St. Botolph Club, Exhibition of Paintings by Childe Hassam, exhibition catalogue, Boston, Massachusetts, 1900, n.p., no. 32.
(Probably) Boston, Massachusetts, Doll & Richards, Exhibition and Private Sale of Oil Paintings by Mr. Childe Hassam, February 23-March 6, 1895, no. 20.
Boston, Massachusetts, St. Botolph Club, Exhibition of Paintings by Childe Hassam, October 29-November 17, 1900, no. 32.

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Lot Essay

Childe Hassam at the turn of the century explored a variety of fashionable neighborhoods throughout New York City. His canvases devoted to Fifth Avenue, however, are his most revered works. The Cathedral and Fifth Avenue in June from 1893, portraying the various old and new structures along Fifth Avenue on a summer day, illustrates Hassam's brilliant achievement of melding not only the hallmarks of American Impressionism, but the grandeur of New York entering the modern age.

Hassam as early as 1885 began portraying modern city life in the city of Boston, exploring the fashionable west end by the Charles River. Between 1886 and 1889, the artist lived in Paris where his interest in urban life focused on the famous bustling boulevards, capturing the comings and goings of the elite populace. In November of 1889, Hassam returned to New York, recognizing its prominence as an international art center. Drawing inspiration from his local environs, Hassam recorded the daily activities of life in the bustling city.

By the time Hassam moved to a studio on West 57t Street in 1893, the year he painted the present work, the area had burgeoned into a thriving commercial district. The new neighborhood, immediately fascinated Hassam and he quickly began portraying areas in and around his new environment, which included vistas along upper Fifth Avenue. Hassam, along with many artists at the turn of the century migrated northward towards upper Fifth Avenue, newer areas that represented the coming modern age of New York. Office buildings, large hotels, grand mansions, restaurants and cultural institutions along the avenue closer to mid-town were becoming the central focus of their fascination. One critic would write in 1899 about how Hassam's old neighborhood had become less desirable: "The fashionable life of the metropolis once had its center here, and although the neighborhood still retains much of its old-time character, and nothing of natural beauty seems lacking to make it desirable as a residence, the tide of fashion has receded northward." (E. Idell Zeisloft, The New Metropolis, New York, 1899, p. 494, as quoted in W.H. Gerdts, Impressionist New York, New York, 1994, p. 46)

Hassam in The Cathedral and Fifth Avenue in June captures with a sweeping vista the fashionable area of Fifth Avenue beginning at 49th Street up to Central Park at 59th Street. Looking along the east side of the thoroughfare, Hassam documents several important buildings, yet focuses with the greatest attention to one of the nation's most famous ecclesiastic structures, St. Patrick's Cathedral located between Fiftieth and Fifty-first Streets. Designed by James Renwick, Jr. in 1850, St. Patrick's Cathedral was constructed over two decades--because of the delays brought on by the Civil War--and opened to the public in 1879. The church's spires were completed in 1888. Hassam portrays the corner of The Buckingham Hotel, located to the right of the church between 49th and 50th Streets. It is now the current site of Saks Fifth Avenue. Built in 1873, this was one of the few hotels that was situated further uptown from the business and entertainment districts of the time. Further up the avenue past the small park Hassam portrays a cluster of low lying buildings which are most likely the famous row of individual chateau-like town houses located between 57th and 58th Streets known as "Marble Row." Built in 1869 as speculative housing for the very wealthy, these houses were considered to be some of the most opulent examples of private homes in New York at the time. Located just past these buildings are two tall imposing structures that are most likely the luxury residential hotels, located on opposite corners of 59th Street, The Savoy and The New Netherland, both built in 1892. Ralph S. Townsend designed the twelve story Classical-style Savoy and William H. Hume designed the New Netherland employing Romanesque characteristics. The New Netherland was 234 feet high and at the time was the tallest hotel.

In The Cathedral and Fifth Avenue in June, Hassam celebrates the picturesque qualities of the varying styles of architecture and sees in these buildings a visual continuity. The Renaissance style of the Buckingham Hotel, the Gothic spires of St. Patrick's and the soaring Romanesque-style of The New Netherland exist separately, but interact naturally as a series of visual motifs that are inextricably linked by the humanity that passes by. Hassam, through his choice of spirited color, energized brushwork and crisp summer light unifies the image into an elegant city portrait not too unlike his portrayals of the stylishly clad pedestrians of lower Fifth Avenue.

Hassam believed New York to be the most beautiful city in the world, rivaling other European metropolises such as Paris, a city historically known for its elegance. Later the artist would comment: "There is no boulevard in all Paris that compares to our own Fifth Avenue." ("New York the Beauty City," New York Sun, February 23, 1913, p. 16 quoted in Impressionist New York, p. 45.) Hassam in The Cathedral and Fifth Avenue in June pays homage to New York and to one of the grandest boulevards of the time, creating an iconic image that embraces both the new and old New York.

This painting 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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