About The Artwork
Painter, illustrator, and printmaker Childe Hassam advanced the visibility and viability of American Impressionism and was one of its earliest and most prolific practitioners. Having achieved great commercial success and critical acclaim as a painter, during the 1910s Hassam embarked on a twenty-year exploration of printmaking, creating etchings, drypoints, and lithographs. East Gloucester, a sketch-like lithograph rendered in front of the motif, provides a nostalgic image of a charming town on the most patriotic of days.
Hassam started his career in Boston as a successful book illustrator and watercolorist. Like Mary Cassatt, William Merrit Chase, and other aspiring American artists of his time, Hassam traveled to Paris, where he began lessons in drawing and painting at the Académie Julian in 1886 and immersed himself in the museums and galleries of the French capital. During his three-year stay, he absorbed certain lessons of Impressionism — broken brushstrokes and a penchant for painting outdoors — and transformed them into his own personal style. Upon his return to the United States, the artist’s works quickly gained favor with more cosmopolitan American collectors.
Hassam settled in New York and his paintings of its avenues and skyscrapers chronicled the dynamism of modern life in the city. He passed many summers, however, capturing rural and small town life in his native New England, frequenting the Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire; Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut; and Gloucester, Massachusetts. In this he was not alone: scores of artists’ colonies attracted painters and sculptors and Hassam, who loved socializing and enjoyed the stimulating company, spent much time in this milieu1. With its lively harbor and well-preserved colonial architecture, Gloucester — including the landscape and harbor captured in Hassam's lithograph — served as the artist’s home base for several seasons. Summers added wealthy tourists to the affluent year-round population, and Hassam used his time there to cultivate buyers, sometimes through exhibitions held in his East Gloucester hotel.
Hassam spent July 1918 in Gloucester and captured the view of the harbor and buildings just outside of the eastern neighborhood. The artist’s vantage point produces a high horizon line, a harbor and townscape in the middle ground, and a wide scrubby landscape in foreground. Tall vertical elements — the church steeple and masts that dot the harbor — produce a back-and-forth rhythm across the composition. Hassam saves his most concentrated mark making for the townscape, where patterns of light and shadow emerge through varied hatching density. His line quality is light and crisp, and resembles pencil marks on a sketchpad.
Despite having been created during the waning days of World War I, East Gloucester belies no outward signs of modern progress or industry and indeed appears timeless. As Susan G. Larkin notes in her study of Hassam’s work, the artist’s images of New England largely omit any signifiers of modernity, a gap that reflected his sensibilities and “struck a cord with potential collectors who discerned in them assurance of enduring values.”2 Hassam reinforced nostalgic ideals by including an American flag next to the inscribed title, a small connection to his wartime paintings of flag-draped streets.
Hassam’s picturesque view and patriotic rendering of East Gloucester should have appealed to art buyers, and was given a public exhibition along with his entire lithographic oeuvre soon after it was completed, in December 1918. In the catalogue that accompanied this exhibit, art critic and collector E. A. Gallatin noted that Hassam’s “… views of the open country … are delightful glimpses, seen sparkling in the sunlight; they are full of style and well enveloped in atmosphere.”3 Despite this publicity, the artist’s lithographs did not find buyers at the time, and after the artist’s death, his widow donated many of them to museums throughout the United States, including the National Gallery, the Detroit Institute of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Assistant Professor, Frederik Meijer Honors College, Grand Valley State University
- Susan G. Larkin, “Hassam in New England, 1889 – 1918,” in H. Barbara Weinberg, Childe Hassam: American Impressionist (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), 119.
- E. A. Gallatin, “Introduction,” in Catalogue of an Exhibition of Lithographs by Childe Hassam (New York: Frederick Keppel & Co., December 1918), 5.
- Griffith, Fuller. The Lithographs of Childe Hassam: A Catalogue. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Bulletin 232, 1962, cat. no. 22.
- Kleeman, Henry. Price List of Lithographs by Childe Hassam. New York: Kleeman Galleries, 1934, cat. no. 11.