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.
Following years in Paris studying the accomplishments of the Impressionists, Childe Hassam settled in New York in the winter of 1889, drawn to the city’s prominence in American cultural and artistic life. From his studio at 95 Fifth Avenue at 17th Street, Hassam was confronted with, and quickly enchanted by, the liveliness and sophistication of the city. He recounted his love and enthusiasm for his new home to an interviewer in 1892: "I believe the thoroughfares of the great French metropolis are not one whit more interesting than the streets of New York. There are days here when the sky and atmosphere are exactly those of Paris, and when the squares and parks are every bit as beautiful in color and grouping." (as quoted in H.B. Weinberg, "Hassam in Paris," Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, New Haven, Connecticut, 2004, p. 90) With this mindset, Hassam highlighted and glorified visions of New York metropolitan life through his works of the 1890s.
Hassam painted the present work in 1894, during a time of drastic change in New York City. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, as exemplified by the construction of the El Train, an abbreviation for “elevated train.” The first El Train successfully ran in July of 1868, alleviating the heavy traffic that burdened the city. The success of this innovation was timely, as the city’s population and tourist numbers spiked at the end of the nineteenth century. Ten years later, after several elevated trains were constructed throughout the city, Gilbert Elevated Railway opened the Sixth Avenue El and later the Second Avenue El. In the present work, Hassam's wondrous tones of blues, browns and black evocatively depict this fascinating urban development of New York.
Created during the artist’s most prolific and creative period, The El, New York (Sixth Avenue El--Nocturne) is emblematic of the artist's quintessential 1890s style with its loose, yet controlled, brushstrokes conveying the energy and motion of the city. Pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages occupy the wide street as the El Train passes on the left. The smoke from the train billows into the night sky, already lit by the glowing orange and yellow streetlamps. Through these juxtapositions, both of color and subject matter, Hassam reveals a city in the midst of modern development. The artist also aligns the train tracks, street and buildings on the same diagonal plane, creating a striking recession of space that leads into the darkness.
The El, New York (Sixth Avenue El--Nocturne) celebrates the dynamism of New York at the turn of the century and the artistic possibilities provided by modern innovations. Though the horse and buggy disappear into the distance, the streetlights and smoke remain visible, further emphasizing the city’s move towards modernity.