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

May Day, Way Up Town

Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
May Day, Way Up Town
signed and dated 'Childe Hassam 1920' with artist's crescent device (lower right)--signed with initials, dated again and inscribed with title (on the reverse)--inscribed with title again (on a label affixed to the reverse)
oil on board
18¾ x 24½ in. (47.6 x 62.2 cm.)
The artist.
American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, by bequest, 1935.
[With]E. & A. Milch, Inc., New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Richard H. Seidman, Del Mar, California, acquired from the above, 1961.
By descent to the present owner.
(Possibly) Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Catalogue of the 116th Annual Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1921, n.p., no. 462 (as Early Spring: 'Way Up Town).
Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, Out of Sight: Works of Art from San Diego Collections, exhibition catalogue, San Diego, California, 1972, n.p., illustrated.
G. Holcomb, Insight: Selections from San Diego Private Collections, exhibition checklist, San Diego, California, 1983.
E. Howard, "American Paintings at Dixon Are in Mint Condition," Memphis Business Journal, May 2-6, 1988, p. 55.
(Possibly) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 116th Annual Exhibition, February 6-March 27, 1921, no. 462 (as Early Spring: 'Way Up Town).
San Diego, California, Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, Out of Sight: Works of Art from San Diego Collections, March 18-April 23, 1972.
San Diego, California, Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, 1973, 1976, 1977, on loan.
San Diego, California, Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, Friends of Friends, April 27, 1979.
San Diego, California, San Diego Museum of Art, Insight: Selections from San Diego Private Collections, April 23-June 12, 1983.
San Diego, California, San Diego Museum of Art, 1983, on loan.
Memphis, Tennessee, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, February 1988, on loan.
Allentown, Pennsylvania, Allentown Art Museum, Paths to Impressionism: French and American Landscape Paintings, October 24, 2004-February 13, 2005.

Lot Essay

May Day, Way Up Town, painted on the banks of the Hudson River in New York City in 1920, is one of Childe Hassam's most progressive forays into the Ashcan style of painting and clearly demonstrates the artist at a pivotal moment in his career. While metropolitan views of New York were not novel for Hassam as subject matter, his earlier park scenes suggest pastoral retreats from urban life and often featured the elegant members of the upper class strolling idly through well-articulated gardens. May Day, Way Up Town depicts a patch of as yet undeveloped land slightly farther afield, both geographically and economically from the Central Park subjects he favored at the turn of the century and beyond. Here, the emphasis is on the development of a formerly rural area, which has encroached upon the spaces available for those seeking respite from the now booming urban metropolis of New York.

Modern city planning began as the Industrial Revolution threatened the beauty of cities and the health of the people. After Chicago's Exposition of 1893, the momentum for better planning gathered force taking the name of the "City Beautiful" movement. Of course, the goal of city planning was to link roads, transportation, water and parks into a coherent, working and enjoyable city. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., considered the intellectual leader of the American city planning movement, remarked on these fundamentals, "City planning is the attempt to exert a well-considered control on behalf of the people of a city over the development of their physical environment as a whole...It takes account of the influence of street plans and depths of blocks upon the prevailing type of building and thus upon the amount of light and air and privacy in the people's dwellings; of the effect of railroad locations on the distribution of factories and on the congestion of population and character of housing; of the economic interrelation between water-supply lands and park lands; of the social and economic values to be secured by grouping educational and recreational functions which have ordinarily been separated; and of other combinations innumerable." (John Nolen, ed., City Planning: A Series of Papers Presenting the Essential Elements of a City Plan, New York, 1916, pp. 1-18)

As the first American artist to gain renown as a painter of urban views, Hassam began his metropolitan experience in Boston before traveling abroad to Paris in 1886. Like many American artists, Hassam returned from studying in Europe to a rapidly changing, urban and industrialized country. Recognizing the prominence of New York as an international art center, Hassam relocated to the city in the winter of 1889. The artist first settled into a studio at 95 Fifth Avenue at Seventeenth Street where he was quickly enthralled by the cultural vitality and cosmopolitan airs of the city. Hassam's passion for the city immediately found direct expression in the canvases he produced and critics quickly came to associate the artist with New York.

While Hassam found great inspiration in the bustling streets, he seems to have enjoyed equal artistic satisfaction and success in capturing the new parks that dotted New York City, most notably Central Park. These new, man-made retreats were created as a much-needed escape for a population that was suffering under the burden of rapid industrialization. John M. Carriere wrote in 1910, "Certain sections of every city must of necessity be ugly and forbidding, and such centers are a refuge and a relief. We must then aim at an interesting and attractive and beautiful way of getting from any one important point in the city to the next point of interest, so that in whatever direction we may travel we may find recreation and rest." ('City Improvement from the Artist Standpoint,' Western Architect, vol. 15, April 1910, pp. 40-41)

In May Day, Way Up Town, Hassam depicts a bright, warm day composed of rich greens and vibrant blues. From this dominant color scheme emerges the contrasted brilliance of salmon patches of stone and deeper red roof tops. Hassam bathes the work with subdued sunlight, an element commonly used by Impressionists to diffuse a scene, which gives form and texture to the figures and landscape. Typical of his later works, his brushwork is very animated and staccato throughout, suggesting movement in the trees and brush on the hill tops and enlivening the surface. Hassam said of his bright palette, "They [people] have become so used to the molasses and bitumen school, that they think anything else is wrong. The fact is, the sort of atmosphere they like to see in a picture they couldn't breathe for two minutes. I like air that is breathable. They are fond of that rich brown tone in painting. Well, I am not, because it is not true...This blue that I see in the atmosphere is beautiful, because it is one of the conditions of this wonderful nature all about us." (as quoted in A.E. Ives, "Talks with Artists: Childe Hassam on Painting Street Scenes," p. 116)

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

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