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

In the Old House

Childe Hassam (1859-1935)
In the Old House
signed and dated 'Childe Hassam/1914' with artist's crescent device (center left)
oil on canvas
31 ½ x 48 ½ in. (80 x 123.2 cm.)
Painted in 1914.
The artist.
[With]Macbeth Gallery, New York.
Mrs. Emily Clark, Grand Rapids, Michigan, acquired from the above, 1917.
Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan, gift from the above, 1917.
Parke-Bernet, New York, 17 January 1941, lot 77, sold by the above.
Thomas J. Watson, New York, 1941, acquired from the above.
IBM International Foundation, New York, 1949, acquired from the above.
Sotheby’s, New York, 25 May 1995, lot 28, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
N. Pousette-Dart, Childe Hassam, New York, 1922, n.p., illustrated.
F. Newlin Price, "Childe Hassam – Puritan," International Studio, vol. 77, no. 311, April 1923, p. 3, illustrated.
Greenwich Times, October 2, 1969, illustrated.
Kevin McKeever, “'The Mantel Piece’ Shows a Glimpse of Life in 1914,” Greenwich Times, November 18, 1990.
U. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1994, pp. 148-49, fig. 165, illustrated.
W. Adelson, Childe Hassam: Impressionist, New York, 1999, pp. 103, 212-13, pl. 223, illustrated.
Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Museum of Art, May 4-June 4, 1916, Second Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists and Sculpture by Anna V. Hyatt, no. 42.
Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, Exhibition of a Retrospective Group of Paintings Representative of the Life Works of Childe Hassam, N.A., March-April 1929, p. 13, no. 18.
New York, Lotos Club, 85th Anniversary Exhibition: Works of Childe Hassam, N.A., March 15-April 15, 1955, no. 21 (as The Old Home).
New York, IBM Gallery, Portraits from the IBM Collection, June 19-July 21, 1967, no. 18.
New York, IBM Gallery of Science and Art, American Images: Selections from the IBM Collection, June-July 1984, no. 7.
Old Greenwich, Connecticut, Greenwich Civic Center; Old Lyme, Connecticut, Florence Griswold Museum, Childe Hassam in Connecticut, December 3, 1987-January 10, 1988, pp. 18, 28, 30, no. 19, pl. 4, illustrated.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, June 10-September 12, 2004, pp. 152-54, fig. 160, illustrated.

Brought to you by

William Haydock
William Haydock

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.

Arguably America’s best regarded Impressionist painter, Childe Hassam sought to portray an artistic vision related to the work of his European peers but befitting of the nation that served as his inspiration. While many of his works concentrate on the busy streets of New York, Hassam would spend his summers away from the bustle of the city in New England, seeking not only personal respite but also new subject matter in the quieter local communities. On the rocky shores of the island of Appledore he concentrated on the craggy coastline and beautiful flower gardens, while in the Connecticut artist colonies of Old Lyme and Cos Cob he focused on the buildings and landscape. Painted at Holley House, a favorite site for Hassam in Cos Cob, In the Old House is a masterful example of the artist’s New England oeuvre. This large-scale work encapsulates into one balanced composition several of the best elements of his paintings from this period, from the stunning traditional architecture and floral arrangements to the beautiful introspective figure and boldly brilliant brushwork.

Hassam began making summer trips to Cos Cob in 1894 and continued to do so until 1918, staying at the Holley Boarding House, which acted as the intellectual center for the local art community. Other frequent artist visitors included John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir and Theodore Robinson. Erica Hirschler writes on the appeal of painting in such towns, “In their interpretations of New England sites, Hassam and his fellow artists were not only appealing to the new interest in the region’s history; they were also responding to the well-established local predilection for the rural and vernacular subjects of the French Barbizon painters.” (“Hassam and American Architecture,” Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New York, 2004, p. 297) Indeed, Hassam was fascinated by the unique local architecture, and his temporary home often became the source for subject as well as shelter. “Not surprisingly, the Holley House itself was one of Hassam’s favorite subjects; he rendered it no fewer than seventeen times, in oil, watercolor, pastel, and etching,” Susan Larken writes. “As if to emphasize its age—and to present it as a paradigm of American tradition—he used its popular name, 'The Old House,' in most of his titles.” (Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 251)

In the Old House is an especially unique and desirable work from this period due to its level of completion and finely rendered detail. In addition to the architecture of the area, Hassam also employed his time in Cos Cob to complete studies of figures and interiors. However, unlike many of his other scenes from this time, which placed a central focus upon a window, the present work remains completely interior, dedicating attention to the intricate details of design centered around a traditional molded fireplace. Atop the mantelpiece, Hassam arranges several beautiful still-life scenes, fully immersing the viewer in the environment of the formal home and demonstrating his exceptional finesse in depicting decorative china, glinting gold candlesticks and vibrant flower blossoms. He includes another floral element through the paintings within the painting, adding a further nod to nature even within this strictly interior composition.

These elements create a sumptuous atmosphere for the standing female figure, posed for by Helen Burke, the daughter of the local tavern keeper who served as barmaid to the artist residents of Holley House. Youthful, yet tall with an elegant figure, Burke was an ideal model for this painting, which harkens to a modesty and fragility of the feminine that had not yet been interrupted by the encroaching narrative of Modernity. Her white gown almost blends with the mantle as they become one continuous symbol for the comforts of a grounded home life. As Larkin writes on In the Old House’s nostalgic bent, “In 1914 Hassam hired [Helen Burke] to pose again, this time for In the Old House, painted in a first-floor chamber of the Holley House. The mood is more subdued…America would soon enter World War I, and Hassam’s comfortable world faced challenges from all sides. A rising tide of immigrants threatened Anglo-Saxon hegemony, the Armory Show of 1913 made Impressionism look retardataire, and the career-oriented New Woman of the day undermined conventions of feminine demeanor. In this unsettled climate, the image of a demure woman at the hearth of an old house offered reassurance of enduring values.” (“Hassam in New England,” Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, p. 153)

Yet, while overall a comforting, nostalgic scene, the figure’s back is turned to the viewer in In the Old House, and thus we feel as if we are catching her in a private moment of introspective contemplation. Leaning against the mantle, one arm clasping a piece of cloth, she appears utterly still and consumed by her thoughts. Hassam seemed to be especially interested in this contemplative pose against the hearth, as it recurs in an etching he created a year later, The White Kimono, which appears to also feature Burke, or perhaps the artist’s wife Maude, this time wearing a kimono—a favored article of clothing for Hassam’s models.

Kathleen M. Burnside writes of the present work, “Hassam’s most important painting of this type is In the Old House…Hassam painted the elegant lines of this mantle several times in the mid-teens. This version was his largest and most formally rendered; its mantle, graced with a precisely organized display of decorative objects, recalls the arrangement of James A.M. Whistler, an artist whom Hassam considered ‘one of the big men’ in art.” (Childe Hassam in Connecticut, exhibition catalogue, Old Lyme, Connecticut, 1987, p. 18) Indeed, the pensive moment at the hearth, the detailed mantle setting and the nod to Japonisme in the present work may take their cue from earlier paintings by Whistler, such as Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl (1864, Tate, London).

Just as Whistler would use his paintings to meditate on shades of a hue, so too does Hassam employ a pervasion of blues in In the Old House to imbue it with a striking ethereality. The inside of the hearth is a prismatic explosion of indigos, violets, rusts and buff—a flurry of brushwork that seems to contrast the still precision of the figure, furniture, architecture and decor of the scene. The blue undertones allow the stark white of Burke’s gown to resonate and conjure a palpable sense of light. Hassam once commented on his often-unconventional use of color, “I am often asked why I paint with a low-toned, delicate palette. Again, I cannot tell. Subjects suggest to me a color scheme and I just paint.” (as quoted in U. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, p. 10)

While In the Old House is a composition that is reminiscent of interior scenes from Impressionism and its forbearers, Hassam brings a robust and lively perspective that instills upon the work a personal narrative, which elevates it beyond mere representation into a realm of both historical documentation and individual artistic exploration. “Although Mr. Hassam is the American representative of French Impressionism, his works reflect the strong personality of their creator. It is true that he studied his technique in France, where his personal vision was much enlarged, but he remains himself always.” (A. Saton-Shmidt, as quoted in Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, 1994, p. 9)

More from American Art

View All
View All