Bleak House, Broadstairs

Bleak House, Broadstairs
Frederick Childe Hassam
1859 - 1935
Acquisition Number: 2017.83
Medium: Paper
Size: 13 ½” x 9 ¾”
Date: 1889

Frederick Childe Hassam was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of an old New England family. His father, Frederick Fitch Hassam, claimed descent from a 17th-century English immigrant, whose name, Horsham, had been corrupted over time to Hassam. Early in his career, Hassam was persuaded to drop his first name to exploit the exotic suggestion of his middle and family names. With his dark skin and heavily-lidded eyes, the artist was thought by many to be of Middle Eastern descent—and he happily went along with the misconception. In the mid-1880s, he took to painting an Islamic-looking crescent moon (later shortened to a slash) next to his signature, and he adopted the nickname Muley (from the Arabic Mawla, meaning Lord or Master), after MuleyAbul Hassan, a ruler of Granada in Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra." Raised in a cultivated household, Hassam decided early on to become an artist.  He left high school to work for the Boston, Massachusetts publisher Little, Brown & Co. and also began training as a wood-engraver.  He turned to illustration and received commissions to illustrate Celia Thaxter’s “An Island Garden” in 1894. Hassam made his first trip to Europe in 1883, but it was not until 1886 that he embarked on a three-year stint of art study in Paris.  He was enrolled for a short time at the Académie Julian, known for its noisy, crowded studios and absence of discipline of any kind.  There Hassam saw a wide range of styles, as the school attracted many foreign artists as well as young French ones.  It was, however, the work of the Impressionists that really attracted Hassam.  Although light had previously played a major role in Hassam’s work, color remained subdued.  His 1887 “Grand Prix Day” demonstrates that after only a short time in Paris, he obtained a much more heightened sense of color and it is almost an Impressionist street scene in both its composition and broken brushstroke.  Hassam was an anglophile who interpreted his own approach in terms of the British landscape tradition, but there is no question that he returned to the United States with the technique and sensibilities of the French Impressionists tempered with American realism.  Impressionism came to Boston and flourished in the 1880s without the furious protest it had aroused in France.  It is not surprising then that in 1898 Hassam joined with the former academic painter Julian Alden Weir and John Henry Twachtman in founding the Ten American Painters, which was to include Frank Weston Benson, Robert Reid and Edmund C. Tarbell, among others. This group of Impressionists mounted a series of exhibitions that were by far the most coherent of any held in America in that era. For Hassam, everything came easily; his career and his life passed as smoothly as one could wish.  He entered most of the important American exhibitions and seldom failed to win a prize. A series of street scenes, vibrant and patriotic with bright banners, are considered the peak of his achievement.