The historic and picturesque towns of New England attracted many artists throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Childe Hassam was part of this group and throughout his career drew inspiration from the varying landscape and architecture of New England. Andover, Massachusetts from 1930 is an ambitious canvas by the artist that illustrates the hallmarks of his mature painting style and moreover reveals the artist's reverence towards and close connection with New England.
Childe Hassam was a native New Englander and traveled frequently to various towns and small communities in and around Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts. In September 1930, Hassam traveled to Andover, a town located on the banks of the Merrimac River in the most northern part of eastern Massachusetts, about twenty three miles north of Boston. Andover is bordered on the north by the city of Lawrence and the town of North Andover, on the east by the town of North Reading, on the south by the towns of Tewksbury and Wilmington and on the west by the towns of Dracut and Methuen. Andover was originally settled in 1646 and then incorporated in 1646 as the Town of Andover, named after a town in England where many of the settlers had come from. Andover, historically known as a manufacturing town, established the region's first powder mill in 1775 and shortly thereafter paper mills in 1789. By the early nineteenth century Andover constructed woolen mills which became a major New England industry at the time.
During Hassam's short stay in Andover, the artist was immediately inspired by the local architecture, the meandering banks of the Merrimac River and nearby farmland. Hassam, in Andover, Massachusetts captures with great enthusiasm the town of Andover and its surroundings on a beautiful late summer day. Utilizing an impressive format, Hassam depicts a landscape of pastoral, rolling fields and sprawling urbanization bissected by the Merrimac River.
According to J. Cantor, "Hassam's mode of depicting historical towns was conditioned in part by his experience in rendering views of New York. He sought the most salient overall view while also recording special features, such as a church or most prominent house." (Childe Hassam, Impressionist, New York, 1999, p. 108) In Andover, Massachusetts Hassam chooses a slightly elevated and distant viewpoint to create a sweeping, panoramic view of the town. In his expansive landscape, Hassam depicts a freshly plowed field, the calm Merrimac River and in the distance Andover, represented by clusters of stately colonial homes and church steeples that pierce the horizon.
Hassam's painting style later in his career focused more on the effects of color that was heightened by exaggerated brushwork. Donelson Hoopes remarks: "Hassam's postwar landscape paintings partake of this new freedom to experiment with color. Unlike his earlier works, these pictures do not seek to approximate light of nature in an "optically correct" way. Often his palette was set in an extremely high tonal key. In this arbitrary disregard for naturalism, Hassam displayed a pronounced attachment to color for its own sake, which when combined with the broad, mannered brushwork, renders the painting an object in its own right more than a picture of something in nature." (Childe Hassam, New York, 1988, p. 84) Andover, Massachusetts composed of varying swatches and strokes of brilliant oranges, greens, blues and reds transforms a formal recording of a New England town into an explosion of color, texture and light.
J. Cantor noted, "Hassam's response to these historical communities was determined in part by their own character but also influenced by what became his infatuation with the idea of the colonial as the essential expression of American character. The colonial existed not only in the history of these old towns and in their surviving buildings but also in the very sense of place." (Childe Hassam, Impressionist, p. 110) Andover Massachusetts, on its grand scale is not only a pictorial homage to a New England town, but to what is profoundly American.
This painting will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.