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Portraits of Places: The Prints of Childe Frederick Hassam, an American Impressionist

June 7 - August 4, 2003


At the age of 56, already an established artist widely admired for his colorful paintings, watercolors and pastels, Childe Frederick Hassam (1859-1935) began making black and white prints. He soon became a master of the etching medium, skilled at producing what critic Royal Cortissoz called "portraits of places." Drawn primarily from the Corcoran Gallery of Art's permanent collection, Portraits of Places: The Prints of Childe Frederick Hassam, an American Impressionist is on view at the Museum from June 7 through August 4, 2003.

"Childe Hassam played a pivotal role in the history of printmaking in America," emphasizes Eric Denker, Corcoran Curator of Prints and Drawings. "With a complete print output of 376 etched images and 45 lithographs, Hassam brought American printmaking to the attention of a public that had previously looked to expatriate American and European artists for fine prints."

Featuring 50 etchings and lithographs and 12 paintings, pastels and drawings, Portraits of Places demonstrates Hassam's remarkable versatility and affirms his place as a major figure in the school of "American Impressionism." This exhibition reveals how Hassam captured the essence of Impressionism - its brilliant use of color and light - with a vocabulary limited to the black strokes of the etcher's needle and the lithographer's crayon.

Hassam's first exposure to French Impressionism occurred while studying in Paris from 1886-1889. Art historians and scholars point to this influence in Hassam's handling of light and color and to his use of abbreviated brush strokes in his painting. In turning to printmaking, Hassam abandoned color for black and white but retained his fascination with light and shadow. His abbreviated brush strokes in painting are replaced by short, forceful marks of the etching needle that build an image in much the same way.

During the period 1917-1918, Hassam worked prolifically in East Hampton Long Island. It is with this body of work, explains Denker, that "Hassam championed the medium of lithography, returning it to the forefront of artistic printmaking." In sunset cityscapes of Manhattan and sunlit landscapes of rural New England, Hassam illuminated the character of both his adopted city and favorite summer retreat.

Childe Frederick Hassam was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1859 to a prosperous New England family. His earliest work was as wood engraver, producing illustrations for a number of major magazines in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Hassam studied painting in Boston and Paris, becoming renowned as a water colorist and oil painter. Although he produced a few etchings from 1898 to 1905, it was after 1915 that Hassam turned seriously to printmaking as a favored means of expression.


Portraits of Places: The Prints of Childe Frederick Hassam, an American Impressionist is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art.


The exhibition is co-curated by Eric Denker, Corcoran Curator of Prints and Drawings, and Herbert L. Cooper, guest curator.

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Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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