Artist Childe Hassam resonates in the news

Unexpected threads continue to connect the artist to the Seacoast

Jim Cerny

Childe Hassam (pronounced as child HASS'm) lived from 1859-1935 and is well known on the Seacoast for the paintings he did at the Isles of Shoals. Drawn to Celia Thaxterís artistic salon, Hassam painted about ten percent of his substantial body of lifetime work at the Shoals. And Hassam is still in the news and still connects to the Seacoast.

Edmund Tarbell, Friend.

Hassam joined with other Boston and New York artists of the late nineteenth century, artists who were all influenced by Impressionism, to form "The Ten". Using auction sales criteria these artists have been ranked from more to less popular as: Childe Hassam, Frank Benson, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Dewing, Willard Metcalf, Edmund Tarbell, Joseph De Camp, John Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, Edward Simmons, and Robert Reid.

Edmund Tarbell, who lived from 1862-1938) is of interest not only because of his friendship with Hassam and for the quality of his work, but because he settled in New Castle where his home still stands and his descendants still live.

Stage drop painted by Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson, restoration incomplete. (Jim Cerny photo)

Early in their careers Tarbell and Benson painted a stage drop showing the gate at Fort Constitution in New Castle. That stage drop is now prominently displayed at the New Castle Historical Society.

Auctions and Sales.

Christieís auction house sold several Hassam paintings at the end of November, 2007, and among them was the stunning "Sunset at Sea," which brought $3,737,000.

Sunset at Sea, 1911, 34 x34 inches. Reproduced with permission. (see in Weinberg, fig. 149; in Curry, plate 85)

A visitor to the Shoals will quickly understand the inspiration for the light and color in Hassam's sunset painting. Christie's, in an enthusiastic art-speak riff, states that "he captures the rejuvenating color and warmth of summer composed of bright pinks and yellows and bathes the work with intense sunlight that does not diffuse the scene, but imbues the water and sky with form and texture."

Summer sunset, looking from Appledore to the mainland, photographed in August 2005. (Jim Cerny photo)

The record for a Hassam may be the sale of "Flags, Fifth Avenue" (also known as "Up the Avenue from Thirty-Fourth Street, May 1917"). This is one of a series of more than 20 paintings Hassam made of flags on display in New York in that era. This particular flag painting was owned by Brooke Astor, the philanthropist, who died in 2007 at age 105. It was one of her favorite paintings and is now part of criminal charges brought against her son, Anthony Dryden Marshall, for mishandling her estate. Allegedly Marshall sold the painting for $10 million to the Gerald Peters gallery and Peters is rumored to have resold it for $20 million to a collector.

An interesting tidbit in all this is the little-known fact that Brooke Astor was born in Portsmouth, NH, in 1902, the daughter of a Marine Corps officer, John Henry Russell, Jr., who subsequently became a major general!

Lost and Found.

Friendly Edifices, dust jacket illustration.
In 2006 the book Friendly Edifices, by Jane Molloy Porter was published, detailing the history of the five lighthouses near Portsmouth Harbor. The dust jacket features a Hassam watercolor painting of White Island Lighthouse, painted in 1886 and inscribed to Celia Thaxter. This painting is similar to another Hassam watercolor painting of the lighthouse also done in 1886 (plate 55 in Curry).

The dust jacket painting was owned by Celia Thaxterís granddaughter, Rosamund Thaxter. In 1985 it was stolen from her home in Kittery Point and remained missing until 2002, when an art dealer in Massachusetts was approached by someone with the painting. The dealer was suspicious, confirmed the work was stolen, and contacted the FBI. The FBI recovered the work, though apparently no arrests were made. The painting is now in the hands of Jonathan Hubbard, Celia Thaxterís great-great-grandson.

More Reading.

For anyone who appreciates Childe Hassam, there are two richly produced yet affordable books, overflowing with illustrations, published in recent years in conjunction with museum exhibitions. Note that the Weinberg reproductions appear to be more accurate, that there is a greenish color cast to many in Curry.

January, 2008