The words of an influential person can impact one’s life. Childe Hassam, a 19th-century American artist, became famous for drawing urban landscapes at the advice of a leading French artist. This painting is the first one of his paintings of an urban landscape. What words impacted the artist to draw such paintings?
People in fancy clothes are walking through a snow-capped park. Mothers and children dressed in the latest fashion have stopped to watch a group of birds. The busy roads filled with high-rise buildings and cars contrast with the quaint park against the sunset. The painting depicts the landscape of Boston Common, which was near the artist’s atelier. Founded in 1634, Boston Common is the oldest park in the United States. Formerly a field for cow crazing, it was converted into a civil park at the time this painting was created. At that time, the streets near the park were also transformed into commercial areas. Buildings, trams, streetlights, fences were also renewed. The artist wanted to capture the vitality of an American city in transformation.
Hassam, who was 26 years at that time, was new to his profession as an artist. He started to paint urban landscapes since the mid-1880s, purely influenced by the words of French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, “Look around and paint what you see. Be confident that Brooklyn Bridge is more valuable than the Colosseum, modern day America is better than ancient decorations.” He was a neoclassic artist but he advised American artists aspiring for French style to look for their own themes.
The advice made a deep impression on Hassan’s mind. Though he went to France to study Impressionism, Hassam did not become a follower because he was influenced by Impressionism, but he always stayed faithful to his identity as an American artist.