Childe Hassam was one of many American artists who went to Paris in the 1880s seeking to immerse themselves in French art and study. With his wife, he settled in Paris in 1886 at the edge of the bohemian Montmartre neighborhood, where he would remain for the next three years. From their apartments, first at 11, boulevard Clichy and by late November 1887 at 35, boulevard Rochechouart, Hassam and his wife had views of this picturesque, avant-garde quarter, where they enjoyed its characters and its lively urban life. Barbara Weinberg has written, “Hassam’s Paris paintings disclose a bourgeois gentility that echoes his lifestyle and typifies the cheerful euphemism that helps define American Impressionism. In them he assumed the role of flâneur, the archetypal urban observer described by Charles Baudelaire as a ‘passionate spectator’ for whom ‘it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude.’” (1)
Hassam consistently rejected the classification of impressionist, and yet L’Épicerie (which is signed and dated, Paris 1889) demonstrates that during his Paris years Hassam had clearly drawn strong inspiration from both French Impressionism and the vibrancy of the Paris environs. Compared to his previous paintings, here Hassam has loosened his brushwork—now using broken although controlled brushstrokes—brightened his color palette, and evoked the effects of atmosphere and sunlight on these otherwise pedestrian storefronts, which are enlivened with bold blocks of color and a vibrant freedom of expression. This foray into Impressionism, however, did not negate his long-standing commitment to realism, and the synthesis of the two artistic traditions offered Hassam a viable new personal style.
Hassam had begun painting broad cityscape views in Boston in the mid-1880s, mostly of a monochromatic brown palette, (2) and his first Parisian works were also street scenes, one of which, Une Averse—rue Bonaparte, he exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1887. (3) However, under the influence of contemporary French art, especially Impressionism, he soon began experimenting with more high-keyed colors and softer lighting effects, and by 1889 he was painting building façades—sometimes even single doorways—as closely viewed intimate streetscapes. Hassam’s interest in the genre of the intimate streetscape, of which he painted several in both Paris and Sannois and perhaps elsewhere in France, may be indebted to the American expatriate artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Hassam would later recall that he had admired Whistler’s “small street things” which he associated with his own “little shop windows.” (4) Like Whistler, Hassam treats the street as a shallow stage set, cropping the buildings at the tops and sides in order to emphasize their geometrical patterns, especially the brightly colored rectangular shapes created by the walls, doors, windows, and signage.
Closely related to LÉpicerie (market), although more low-key in tonal palette, is Hassam’s undated, ca. 1888-89, watercolor, La Bouquetière et la Laitière (the flower girl and the milkmaid), which similarly depicts a woman relaxing against the frame of an open doorway while another woman kneels on the pavement arranging flowers. (5) La Fruitière (the fruit seller), another related painting of a size similar to the Dumbarton Oaks painting and dated ca. 1888-89, concentrates on a single doorway, the surrounding walls of which are painted a vibrant blue, and depicting the fruit vendor lost in thought leaning against the entrance jamb with her vibrantly colored pumpkins, radishes, and a cabbage enlivening the area at her feet. (6) Hassam would briefly return to the genre of the intimate streetscape between 1909 and 1912. (7)
(1) Barbara Weinberg, Childe Hassam, American Impressionist (New Haven, 2004), 60.
(2) Ulrich W. Hiesinger, Childe Hassam, American Impressionist (New York, 1994), 34.
(3) Terra Foundation for American Art Collection (TF 1993.20).
(4) Paul Manoguerra in Sacred Art, Secular Context, Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. Asen Kirin, editor (Athens, GA, 2005), 156. See also Linda Merrill et al., After Whistler: The Artist and his Influence on American Painting (Atlanta, Georgia, 2003), 196.
(5) Private collection, 43.18 cm x 66.04 cm (17 in. x 26 in.). Another related painting is: At the Florist, dated 1889, oil on canvas, 93.4 cm x 137.8 cm (36 1/4 in. x 54 1/4 in.), Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia (71.500).
(6) Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis, oil on composition board, 36.2 cm x 26 cm (14 ? in. x 10 ? in.).
(7) For example, The Chinese Merchants, 1909, oil on canvas, 50.4 cm x 84.0 cm (19 13/16 in. x 33 1/16 in.), Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (F1910.22a); News Depot, Cos Cob, dated 1912, oil on cigar box lid, 13.34 cm x 22.23 cm (5.25 in. x 8.75 in.), Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut; and Little Cobbler’s Shop, dated 1912, oil on canvas, 41.91 cm x 77.15 cm (16 ½ in. x 30 3/8 in.), Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts (1936.27).
Curry, David Park. Childe Hassam, An Island Garden Revisited. New York/London: Denver Art Museum in association with W.W. Norton & Co., 1990), 164, pl. 83.
Sacred Art, Secular Context, Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. Asen Kirin, editor. Athens, Georgia: Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, 2005, 156-157, no. 72.
Carder, James. American Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010, 90-93, no. 13.
Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York, Childe Hassam: 1859-1935, March 21-May 10, 1981, no. 3.
The Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia, Sacred Art, Secular Context, May 15-November 6, 2005, no. 72.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., American Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Selections from the House Collection, October 26, 2010-February 13, 2011, no. 13.