| Acknowledged as the leading exponent of Impression in America
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The artist, christened Frederick Childe Hassam, was born in 1859 at his family home on Olney Street, Dorchester, Massachusetts. Though an outlying suburb of Boston (incorporated into the city proper in 1870) , Dorchester still retained the character of a small New England country town, with green open spaces and old frame houses set on the low hills overlooking Dorchester Bay. It was here that Hassam recalled spending an idyllic youth, filled with the boyish camaraderie of baseball and rugby games, of clandestine boxing matches, and the pleasures of summer swimming, which became a lifelong passion. Frederick Fitch Hassam, the artist's father, earned his living in Boston as a cutlery merchant, and claimed descent from a long line of New Englanders, as did his wife, Rosa Hawthorne, a native of rural Maine. Childe maintained that the family name was a corruption of the old English surname Horsham, though by an alternative account it was originally Hassan.
Hassam's father was a collector of American antiques, and filled the family barn and carriage house with a large miscellany of early furniture, firearms, Indian weapons, Eskimo artifacts, and old sporting prints. Although the artist never claimed that these objects had any special relevance to his later career, one of his earliest memories, as a boy of five or six, was retreating to his father's barn to play with watercolors while ensconced in an ancient coach that had once belonged to the Massachusetts governor William Eustis and had served Lafayette on his
triumphal tour of America in 1824. "It had steps that let down," said Hassam of the coach, "and a large flap pocket in the door. I would open the door, let down the steps and put my water colors in the flap with my pad of Whatman paper -- climb into the well cushioned seat and stay there as long as a boy stays put anywhere." Hassam recalled: "I had artists' material given me as early as I can remember. I cannot remember when I did not have artists' materials. Water colors, colored crayons, etc." His education at the Mather public school included his first formal instruction in freehand drawing and watercolor. This childhood interest prompted at least one family member, an aunt named Delia, to encourage Hassam's involvement in art by arranging visits to several obscure local painters -- among them, Robert Hinckley in Milton, Massachusetts, and Frank Myrick -- in the apparent hope of some guidance or advice. Little came of the effort, however, as Hassam's parents appear to have remained aloof to his artistic inclinations.
Hassam related that, when he was thirteen, his father's business was destroyed in the famous fire that wiped out much of Boston's downtown commercial district in November 1872, though there are, in fact, indications that the firm had been in financial difficulties before that. Hiessinger says " At any rate, the effect on the family was severe. Hassam's father had to sell off his collection of antiques, and Hassam himself was ultimately forced to leave high school before graduating, in order to find work. The likely date for this is 1877. A first job was arranged for him in the accounting department of the Boston publishing firm of Little Brown & Co., but this lasted just three weeks: the kindly supervisor was forced to dismiss him as he had not the slightest aptitude for figures, but counseled that, since he spent all his time drawing, he might as well consider an artistic career. Heeding this advice, his parents set him to work in the shop of the wood engraver George E. Johnson. After first being assigned to mechanical tasks, such as cutting lines and routing out the backgrounds of wooden engraving blocks, Hassam was soon elevated to the position of draftsman, producing designs for commercial engravings. Among his early projects were a view of a shoe factory for a letterhead, an image of the Farragut Hotel in Rye Beach, and a panorama of the town of Marblehead that had been commissioned for the masthead of a local newspaper."
Hassam is quoted: " Dorchester was a most beautiful and pleasant place for a boy to grow up and go to school--from Meeting House Hill and Milton Hill lookng out on Dorchester Bay and Boston Harbor with the white sails and the blue water of our clear and radiant North American weather ... if you like as fair as the isles of Greece ... and white houses often of very simple and good architecture juxtaposed to it all. Some of the wihte churches were actual masterpieces of architecture, and the white church on Meeting House Hill as I look back on it was no exception ... I can look back and very truly say that probably and all unconsciousy I as a very young boy looked at this New England church and without knowing it appreciated partly its great beauty as it stood there then against one of our radiant North American clear blue skies." At another time he is quoted: "I was very fortunate, I think, in being brought up in Boston, which was the centre of culture, for I had the advice of my fellow painters in my youth."
His family moved to Hyde Park in 1879 or 1880. Apparently "Hassam" is not a middle-eastern name, but is a corrupt spelling of the English surname "Horsham," or something similar. He started signing his works with a crescent near his name in recognition of it's Arabic ring.
Refer to the book for more information about Hassam's career and hundreds of paintings.
Hiesinger, Ulrich W. Childe Hassam: American Impressionist. New York: Prestel-Verlag, 1994.
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Created: August 9, 2003 Modified: July 13, 2004