Childe Hassam's images of New York City from the 1890s are among the most poignant and brilliant depictions of urban life in the late nineteenth century. Hassam's fascination with the vitality of the metropolis and his approach to capturing the modernity of the city explain the success of his works from the period. Man Standing in Street reveals Hassam's captivation with his urban surrounds and serves as a wonderful record of life in the late nineteenth century.
Hassam's urban experience began as early as 1885, when he married Kathleen Maude Doan and the couple decided to settle in Boston. Exploring Boston's fashionable west end by the Charles River inspired Hassam to begin portraying modern city life. In 1886, Hassam moved to Paris for three years where his continued interest in urban life focused on the famous bustling boulevards and parks, capturing the comings and goings of the city's elite populace. Recognizing the prominence of New York as an international art center, Hassam relocated to New York 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 vigor and cosmopolitan airs of his new home. Hassam's passion for capturing the urbanscapes that surrounded him immediately found direct expression in the works he produced, and critics quickly came to associate him with New York. Hassam's enthusiasm is evident from his comments 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, D. Bolger and D.P. Curry, American Impressionism and Realism, New York, 1994, p. 179) Later, in 1895, one critic would hail Hassam as "a brilliant painter, a sort of Watteau of the boulevards, with unlimited spark and gaiety, movement and animation. He suggests a crowd well; he gives you the color of the streets and the tone of the city." (W.H. Howe, G. Torrey, "Childe Hassam," Art Interchange 34, May 1895, p. 133)
When discussing his fascination with urban life, Hassam once remarked: "There is nothing so interesting to me as people. I am never tired of observing them in everyday life, as they hurry through the streets on business or saunter down the promenade on pleasure." (as quoted in A.E. Ives, "Talks with Artists: Mr. Childe Hassam on Painting Street Scene," Art Amateur 27, October 1892, pp. 116-17 in I.S. Fort, Childe Hassam's New York, San Francisco, 1993, p. VIII). In order to capture the ever-changing scenes around him, Hassam often executed quick sketches while seated in a cab or standing on the street. The daily routines he observed taking place in New York were more often than not vignettes of the refined upper-middle class, clad in stylish dress and engaged in leisurely activities. From the vantage point of the viewer, it seems entirely likely that Hassam sketched the composition for Man Standing in Street while out on one of his many jaunts around the city.
Man Standing in Street perfectly exemplifies the hustle and bustle that captivated and enveloped Hassam during his time in New York. The late nineteenth century proved to be a banner time of growth and development for the city and Hassam was keenly aware of the changes taking place all around him. In Man Standing in Street, Hassam has chosen to depict a dapper gentleman out for a stroll. While enjoying his cigarette, he gestures to another passerby outside of the picture plane. His sharp attire, complete with bowler hat and fur-collared trench coat, leads the viewer to believe that this flâneur is likely from the upper echelon of New York society. While the figure occupies the majority of the composition, Hassam has interspersed examples of the ever-increasing modernization of the city throughout the remainder of the space. The automobile industry was booming and the proliferation of steam engine cars on city streets was certainly a wondrous sight. Additionally, cultural activities had become readily available to those that could afford such a luxury. Broadway theaters offered a selection of plays, musicals and operas, and the post behind the man seems to be littered with show announcements in hopes of drawing crowds to the performances. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the addition of street lights only furthered the amount of foot traffic that could be seen on city sidewalks at any given time of day.
Man Standing in Street includes all of the hallmarks of Hassam's celebrated works from the 1890s. Reflecting his fascination with his modern urban surroundings and the people that he encountered, Hassam pays homage to the city and captures the spirit, energy and excitement of fin-de-siècle New York.
This work will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.