Paris in the 1880's attracted a host of American artists seeking to immerse themselves in the ways of Impressionism and Childe Hassam was part of this migration. In 1886 the artist and his wife settled in Paris where they would remain for the next three years. During this period Hassam painted In the Doorway, drawing strong inspiration from the Paris environs. With broken yet controlled brush strokes, sophisticated command of color, atmosphere and light, In the Doorway represents Hassam's early forays into American Impressionism with the likelyhood of some later modifications made by the artist.
Hassam moved to Paris with the intent of "refining his talent in the larger crucible of contemporary art." (D.F. Hoopes, Childe Hassam, New York, 1982, p. 13) While in Paris, Hassam studied at the Academie Julian though his experience at the school was neither favorable nor beneficial to his art. Hassam wrote: "The Julian Academy is the personification of routine...It is nonsense. It crushes all originality out of the growing men." (as quoted in U.W. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam American Impressionist, New York, 1994, p. 32) Working independently of the Academie, Hassam learned his most important artistic lessons on his own. During this time Hassam's style exhibited a subtle shift away from his more static approach evident in his works from his earlier Bostonian period and absorbed various tenets of Impressionism.
Hassam, however, consistently rejected the classification of Impressionist. Donaldson F. Hoopes writes: "If the search for the equivalent in paint of the light of nature involved borrowing some of the Impressionists' innovations, then he borrowed, but at no time in his career did Hassam subordinate the emotional content of the represented image to a supremacy of color or technique. Indeed, most of his paintings from the Paris years also tell of his search for a synthesis of his commitment to realism and the demands of a viable plastic expression." (Childe Hassam, p. 13) The present painting, In the Doorway reflects Hassam's melding of styles that would come to define the power and creativity of his art.
During their residence in Paris, Hassam and his wife formed a close friendship with the Blumenthal family, who lived in Villiers-le-Bel, approximately ten miles northeast of Paris. Because of their financial restraints while living in Paris, these visits to the Blumenthal family home in the Oise Valley were the only trips the Hassams made out of the city. Hassam wrote in a letter, "I wish we were at the Shoals for this summer but we will really go to Villiers-le-Bel and I shall paint in a charming old French garden." (as quoted in Childe Hassam American Impressionist, p. 50) The home was a "walled enclosure that included formal terraces, flower beds, winding paths, earthen walkways, and benches set beneath shade trees." (Childe Hassam American Impressionst, p. 50) In In the Doorway, depicting the Blumenthal home in Villiers-le-Bel, Hassam has explored light and color and has brought a feeling of serenity to the painting. "Hassam's paintings of lovely women in the garden attached to the Blumenthal house are some of his finest Impressionist works, and, though far more infused with everyday narrative, recall the garden pictures by Claude Monet and other French Impressionist masters." (W. Gerdts, Childe Hassam Impressionist, New York, 1999, p. 171)
In the present painting, Hassam displays wonderful light effects of sun and shadow, contrasting the bright outdoors and the dark interior. The mysterious woman in the darkened doorway emphasizes the romanticism of the scene. This dark area is surrounded by vines of bright, colorful roses. One critic wrote of Hassam's garden scenes in 1889, "We should fail to do justice to the artist if we did not call attention at the same time to the delightful effects of sunlight which he skillfully manages in several garden scenes, where the soft breath of summer can almost be felt." (Childe Hassam Impressionist, p. 172) Hassam showers the work with subdued sunlight that does not diffuse the scene but shapes and forms the woman and the architecture of the exterior of the house and the flowerpots outside.
The scene which Hassam portrays in In the Doorway moves beyond a vision of everyday life and transforms into a crystalline image that is energized through brush stroke, color, light and atmosphere. In the present work, the building and ground are comprised of muted browns, greens and grays. From this dominant color scheme emerges the contrasted brilliance of the red and pink of the flowers surrounding the doorway and in pots as well as the red of the woman's hat that peeks out of the darkened doorway. The daisies in the yellow pot are also highlighted with bright white contrasting against the gray building. The works painted in Villiers-le-Bel were Hassam's most brilliantly colored paintings to date.
Hassam conveys a strong romantic parallel between the woman and the flowers in In the Doorway. This romantic theme re-emerges in his later interiors, however his garden paintings of this period such as In the Garden (circa 1888-1889, Private Collection) and The Artist's Wife in a Garden, Villiers-le-Bel (1889, Private Collection) are Hassam's strongest statements on the splendor of women. Hassam has painted the darkened figure of the woman in In the Doorway as secondary to the magnificent flowers and vines surrounding the entrance. However, the viewer gets the impression that the moment the woman steps out of the doorway and into the light she will be as lovely as the flowers that surround her.
Combining his interest of women and flowers with a new and unique painting technique, In the Doorway represents an important stylistic development in Hassam's career. The present work illustrates the important elements that would later define his greatest achievements in American Impressionism.
This painting will be included in Stuart P. Feld's and Kathleen M. Burnside's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.