Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
Property of an Estate
Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

In a French Garden

Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
In a French Garden
signed and dated 'Childe Hassam 1897' with artist's crescent device (lower left)
oil on canvas
25¾ x 21¼ in. (65.4 x 53.9 cm.)
The artist.
American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, by bequest, 1935.
[With]Milch Galleries, New York, 1944.
[With]M. Knoedler & Company, New York, 1944.
Mr. Jack F. Chrysler, 1945.
[With]M. Knoedler & Company, New York, 1946.
Mrs. Ellis Arnoff, New York.
[With]Joan Michelman Ltd., New York.
Mr. Richard Manoogian, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, acquired from the above, 1977.
[With]The Jordan-Volpe Gallery, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1998.
"Childe Hassam's Work in Various Mediums: Art at Home and Abroad," The New York Times, November 16, 1919 (as "a little canvas painted in 1897").
A. Adams, Childe Hassam, New York, 1938, p. 100.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Quality, An Experience in Collecting, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1974, n.p., no. 19, illustrated.
U.W. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1994, pp. 109, 113, fig. 119, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Eleventh Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings, October 28-December 9, 1928, no. 249.
Buffalo, New York, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, Exhibition of a Retrospective Group of Paintings Representative of the Life Work of Childe Hassam, N.A., March 9-April 8, 1929, no. 106.
Southampton, New York, Parrish Art Museum, Paintings of France, July 5-25, 1946, no. 30.
New York, Milch Galleries, Childe Hassam - Paintings, February 24-March 15, 1947, no. 8.
St. Louis, Missouri, Carroll-Knight Gallery, Paintings by American, French, and English Artists, April 1947, no. 7.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Quality, An Experience in Collecting, November 12-December 7, 1974, no. 19.
(Probably) New York, The Jordan-Volpe Gallery, Inc., Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, May 20-July 1, 1994.

Lot Essay

In a French Garden is a brilliant display of light, color and brushwork that demonstrates Childe Hassam at the height of his abilities. Here Hassam creates a lively and engaging surface through vigorous, broken brushwork and comes as close to Post-Impressionism as at any point in his career. In In a French Garden, Hassam elevates one of his favorite themes, women and flowers, to a sophisticated meditation not only on the effects of light and shadow, but on the process of painting itself.

The origin of Hassam's light palette and interest in the theme of women and flowers appears to have coincided with his first extended stay in France from 1886 to 1889. During this period, he was exposed to Impressionism and closely studied and adopted aspects of the movement's technique, approach and choice of subject matter. He integrated these aspects into his work to suit his own aesthetic objectives and his style changed dramatically from that of his early, more tonal work in Boston. He no longer painted drab canvases, having discovered bright light and color and vibrant paint application. After returning to America, he spent nearly a decade developing his technique, creating some of his most famous views of Boston and New York. By the time that Hassam returned to Paris in 1897, as part of a year he spent traveling in Europe, he was a well established artist.

During their first residence in Paris, Hassam and his wife, Maud, had formed a close friendship with Ernest Blumenthal, a German businessman, and his wife. The Hassams visited the Blumenthals' summer residence, which was on an estate owned by the daughter of the French artist, Thomas Couture, 10 miles outside Paris in Villiers-le-bel. The home was a "walled enclosure that included formal terraces, flower beds, winding paths, earthen walkways, and benches set beneath shade trees." (U.W. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1994, p. 50) Hassam found their home and accompanying garden to be fertile artistic ground, painting many successful and large scale canvases depicting female figures in flower gardens, including: After Breakfast (The Garden at Villiers-le-Bel (1887, Private collection); Gathering Flowers in a French Garden (1888, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts); Geraniums (1888, Hyde Collection Art Museum, Glens Falls, New York); The Artist's Wife in a Garden, Villiers-le-Bel (1889, Private collection), and In the Garden (circa 1888-89, Private collection). "Hassam's paintings of lovely women in the garden attached to the Blumenthal house are some of his finest Impressionist works, and, though far more infused with everyday narrative, recall the garden pictures by Claude Monet and other French Impressionist masters." (W.H. Gerdts, Childe Hassam: Impressionist, New York, 1999, p. 171)

In these paintings of women in the Blumenthals' garden, Hassam conveys a strong romantic parallel between the women and the flowers. This romantic theme re-emerges in his later interiors, however the garden paintings are Hassam's strongest statements on the splendor of women. Hassam has painted these women as secondary to the magnificent flowers that surround them. This theme of women and flowers that began in Paris would continue throughout his career.

In the spring or early summer of 1897, the Hassams returned to the Blumenthals' home in Villiers-le-Bel, during which time he painted In a French Garden. This work incorporates elements from Hassam's French garden scenes of the late 1880s and his paintings of Celia Thaxter's garden on the Isle of Shoals of the 1890s, but is presented in an entirely new manner consistent with his mature style. "In a French Garden was painted there...Though th[e] themes recall Hassam's paintings of the 1880s, their method of modeling, with short nervous dashes of pigment, is vastly different and, while intended, perhaps to reflect the shimmer of light upon surfaces, creates instead a shifting, dappled surface that becomes the pictures primary object of attention. In In a French Garden the artist's mosaic-like patterning produces not the atmospheric quality of a soft, continuous dissolve, but a fracturing of space through the alternation of light and shade. In subsequent works, Hassam oscillated between these alternatives of illusion and decoration, occasionally abandoning space for strong tapestry-like surface effects." (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 115) In a French Garden 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.

In the painting the presumed model, Mrs. Hassam, is pictured at the breakfast table with a dog obediently seated by her feet. Hassam's high-keyed palette and short brushstrokes are masterfully executed in this work and vary between thick impasto and a thin application of paint. Through Hassam's dexterous handling of the medium, In a French Garden becomes a brilliant vision of a peaceful domestic moment. Hassam blends rich greens and blues with pastel pinks, pale blues and yellows and baths the work in intense sunlight. In In a French Garden, Hassam uses a tapestry of brushwork and a vibrant palette, a style more abstract than he previously painted, demonstrating his developing Impressionist technique. "While in his earlier work details of surface, color, and texture were expressed in naturalistic terms, in the later 1890s they acquired an even greater autonomy as a result of the artist's pursuit of abstract pictorial values. In fact, Hassam came to prefer motifs in nature that inherently favored such patterns of surface, as he consciously strove to narrow the gap between representation and decoration." (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, p. 109)

The geraniums are the primary focus of the composition, due in large part to their bright red blooms standing in stark contrast to the soft palette of the remainder of the composition. Geraniums were a flower that attracted Hassam's interest throughout his career, particularly in his French garden scenes from the 1880s. In a French Garden is characterized by a more fluid naturalism that is most evident in the artist's increasingly assured brushwork, refined sense of color, and command of the oil medium. The lush blossoms and verdant foliage are vehicles for Hassam to demonstrate his maturing Impressionist technique. Brushy flecks and daubs of highlighted color picked up in the red flowers and greenery infuse the canvas with a sense of lively energy. In the foreground, streaks of similarly colored light pigment give way to even looser brushwork that animates the foreground and harmoniously unifies the composition. This sophisticated handling of paint combined with the soft palette emphasizes the atmospheric effect of a summer morning.

Discussing the later works painted in Villiers-le-Bel, Mr. Hiesinger writes, "Though their themes recall Hassam's paintings of the 1880s, their method of modeling, with short, nervous dashes of pigment, is vastly different and, while intended, perhaps to reflect the shimmer of light upon surfaces, creates instead a shifting, dappled surface that becomes the picture's primary object of attention." (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 109) In a French Garden is a superlative example of Hassam's work that conveys the full vision of the artist's lively Impressionist style. The vitality of the scene is poignantly recorded and he successfully creates an idyllic image that embraces the scene in its most beautiful and picturesque form.

We would like to thank Kathleen M. Burnside for her help 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 works.

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