In the 1880s, France attracted many American artists who sought to immerse themselves in the ways of classical artistic training, and ultimately, Impressionism. In 1886 while still in his twenties, Childe Hassam became a part of this migration when he settled with his wife in Paris. They remained there for the next three years, during which time Hassam painted A Field in France, which was inspired by the countryside in the environs of Paris. With passages of broken brushwork, and a sure command of color, atmosphere and light, A Field in France represents one of Hassam's most successful early forays into Impressionism.
The present work also captures Hassam's innovative melding of contemporary styles, and documents his fascination with the everyday scenes unfolding around him. As one art historian notes, Hassam often wandered about Paris in search of motifs for his art. "[He] developed a working catalogue of themes...More than professional duty, we sense in the process of accumulation the drive of personal curiosity, a faith in the artistic process as a genuine search for truth, and a belief that this role as artist observer was to discover and communicate the often unrecognized aspects of life." (U. W. Heisinger, Childe Hassam, American Impressionist, New York, 1994, pp 42-6).
Here he depicts a momentary vignette: a horse drawn cart traveling along a country road, with a village and church spire in the distance. Along the road, Hassam adds dashes of red representing numerous poppies in bloom. A close observer of nature, the artist also paints its changeable weather; a solitary rain shower falls from a cloud, while sunlight daubs the landscape and village with highlights of yellow and orange. Applying his inimitable style to a pastoral view, Hassam brings together in this early work the essential elements that would come to define his greatest achievements in American Impressionism.
Hassam had moved to Paris with the intention of "refining his talent in the larger crucible of contemporary art." (D.F. Hoopes, Childe Hassam, New York, 1982, p. 13). While there, he began his studies at the Académie Julian. His experience at the school, however, was not entirely to his liking, for he found its method overly marked by routine and conformity. In time, he would reject it, and by 1888, the approximate date of this work, Hassam stopped attending the Academy altogether. His departure from the Academy set the stage for his development as one of America's foremost Impressionists.
He began to exhibit a shift away from the more tonal approach evident in the works of his earlier, Boston period. He approached Impressionism cautiously, melding his lessons from the conservative Academy with the radical departures of the Impressionists. Though he surely did become an Impressionist, he never entirely embraced the term, adopting later in his life a characteristically individual interpretation of the basis of his painterly style: "Art, to me, is the interpretation of the impression which nature makes upon the eye and brain. The word 'impression' as applied to art has been used, and in the general acceptance of the term has become perverted. It really means the only truth because it means going straight to nature for inspiration, and not allowing tradition to dictate to your brush, or to put it brown, green or some other colored spectacles between you and nature as it really exists. The true impressionism is realism." (A.E. Ives, "Talks with Artists: Childe Hassam on Painting Street Scenes," Art Amateur, 27 October 1892, p. 117).
"On leaving Paris," writes Ulrich Heisinger, "[he] had every reason to feel satisfied with his accomplishments. He could claim to have undergone the rigors of French academic training, had succeeded in exhibiting at the Salon in each of the three years of his stay--no ordinary feet for a young painter--and capped this by receiving a medal at the Exposition Universelle... Hassam had seen his name and reputation steadily increase at home. He received admiring attention in art journals and press reviews. He had even managed to keep selling his work all the while. If he was still not well known, let alone famous, he had certainly moved far beyond the small world of Boston to join the international ranks of professionals worthy of serious attention." (Childe Hassam, American Impressionist, p. 58)
This painting will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.