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Frederick Childe Hassam
Lyme Art Colony
(October 17, 1859–August 27, 1935)
In Lyme: 1903 - 1913
Childe Hassam (he did not use his first name, Frederick) was the son of a prosperous Boston Merchant and collector of American Antiques. Soon after high school he went to work for a wood-engraver, producing business letterheads and newspaper mastheads. Later he worked as an illustrator, creating popular work for periodicals such as Harper’s and Scribner’s . He studied art at the Lowell Institute and took an evening life-class at the Boston Arts Club before studying painting privately with IM Gaugengigl. In 1883 Hassam painted in England, Scotland, Holland, Italy, and Spain. Soon after, he married Kathleen Maud Doane and, in 1886, returned to Europe. While earning a living in Paris as a painter and illustrator, he enrolled at the Academie Julian, where he studied under Boulanger and Lefebvre.
During this second trip to Europe he became friends with John Twachtman, Theodore Robinson, Willard Metcalf, and other artists with whom he would later paint in Cos Cob and Old Lyme. Hassam painted what was probably his first Impressionist picture, Le Jour du Grand Prix, which was awarded a gold medal at the 1888 Paris Salon. Certainly influenced by Claude Monet and the French. Hassam’s work remained distinctively American, marked by his personal exploitation of Impressionist ideas.
Hassam continued to paint in France until 1889. After winning a bronze medal in the Paris Exposition that year, he returned to the Untied States and settled in New York. New York remained his primary residence for most of his life, for unlike many of his colleagues Hassam loved the city, “To me New York is the most wonderful city in the world,” he declared, “No street, no section of This or any other city I have seen is equal to New York.”
Nonetheless, the enthusiastic athlete and gregarious bon vivant spent much of his time travelling to places where he might find picturesque subjects and enjoy country living, congenial companionship and outdoor exercise. One of Hassam’s favorite sites for these pursuits is described in a letter to his close friend J. Alden Weir, with whom he often visited in Branchville and in Windham. he writes from Old Lyme, in questionable French, of the special ambiance he feels there. he liked his studio there, too -- “just the place for high thinking and low living.” Though his association with Old Lyme was relatively brief, it had far-reaching effects on the development of that art colony.
Another favorite spot for painting and relaxation was Cos Cob, which he visited on and off for more than twenty years. Cos Cob was especially significant in Hassam’s etching for the first time there in the summer of 1915. In both places, architecture -- classic New England churches as well as ramshackle waterfront warehouses -- occupied as much of his time as landscape. He also painted figure studies in both the Holley House and Florence Griswold’s “Holy House.”
Known to his friends as Muley, a nickname from Tile Club days that apparently referred to his strong opinions, Hassam enjoyed popularity in his time and is remembered both as an artist and as a unique personality. Artist Arthur Heming describes “ a spruce-looking man of medium height and a powerful build” who was affectionately called “the old devil” by a servant at the Griswold house. At Miss Florence’s he liked to rummage through the trunks in the attic for an old flowered dressing gown or stove-pipe hat to wear down the street to the post office in order to startle the townspeople. Whether at Old Lyme, Cos Cob, Appledore, New Hampshire, or Easthampton, New York, he could be counted on to keep things lively.
Hassam’s popularity as an artist is shown by the numerical awards and honors he received for his work, as well as by the widespread acceptance he won from contemporary critics. Together with J. Alden Weir and John Twachtman, Hassam founded The Ten in 1897. He was a member of the American Water Color Society, the Society of American Artists, the National Academy of Design, and the Association of American Painters and Sculptors.
Finally, he was an artist interested in American art education. He willed his own collection of work to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a group of nearly 450 paintings, pastels, and decorative panels. At his direction, the collection was sold, at prices per Macbeth and Milch galleries, for the purchase of works by contemporary American and Canadian artists to be given to museums of the United States. Like the Ranger Fund, Hassam’s generous bequest has benefited members of public museum collections in this country and has fostered interest in American art.