It was in the Autumn of 1886 that Childe Hassam and his wife Maude first set sail for Europe in pursuit of an education within the French academic system and with the expectation of new perspectives. Yet as early as his first winter in Paris, it had become apparent to Hassam that in order to acquire a meaningful artistic education, to the degree he desired, he would have to work independently of the French Academy. By the end of his first year in Paris, Hassam curtailed his formal instruction and began working entirely on his own. However, it was his second objective abroad that would have a lasting impact on his career. In one of his early letters home, in January 1887, Hassam proclaims to have found new inspiration, the pursuit for which set the Hassams' travels so far from home. The artist announced: in the grand boulevards of Paris, "I have unquestionably arrived at my selection of subjects."
Hassam, "was caught by the everyday scenes that unfolded around him at each corner or at newspaper kiosks and bookstalls on the quais." (D.F. Hoopes, Childe Hassam, New York, 1982, p. 44). Hassam's love of the city lured him on a second trip in 1897, when he embarked on a European tour that began in Paris; on this later visit he painted Autumn Boulevard, Paris. In this work, he provides a kind of visual summation of the Parisian boulevard environment, a milieu that kept the artist enchanted from his first visit. Throughout his career, Hassam was impressed by nature's range of atmospheric conditions and frequently brought this examination to his canvases; some critics even considered him to be obsessed with painting rainy day effects. However, Hassam deliberated over and reflected on all of the seasons throughout his career. "Bold sunlight was only one of the things that fascinated him. He dealt with atmosphere and light in all its manifestations, in rain, snow, mist, moonlight - indeed, in any phenomenon of nature that could lend drama and energy to a scene, and that helped finally to transform it beyond its ordinary physical condition." (Ulrich W. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam, 1994, xx)
The Autumnal scene that Hassam portrays in Autumn Boulevard, Paris is one of a graceful young woman gazing onto a grand Parisian boulevard. Trees, weighed down by multihued foliage, line the street's edge and the walkway is blanketed by brilliantly colored leaves that have already fallen. Hassam depicts a slightly cloudy afternoon composed of muted lavenders and grays; from this subdued atmosphere and gentle color scheme emerges the contrasting radiance of red, russet, and orange leaves scattered throughout the street. Hassam's employment of thick impasto layers of paint infuses the work with a sense of movement indicative of these falling leaves. This sophisticated handling of paint emphasizes the artist's talent in evoking the particular tone he strives for and in capturing such a distinct time of year.
In an interview with A.E. Ives, Hassam gives explanation to his departure from the French Academy as well as his commitment to depicting the street scene and the natural world surrounding it. "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." (A.E. Ives, "Talks with Artists: Childe Hassam on Painting Street Scenes," Art Amateur, 27, October 1892, p. 117).