Paper on Childe Hassam

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Childe Hassam has been a well-known American Impressionist artist in America and Europe. Called the “American Monet” Hassam was famous for his early illustrations, but more importantly his landscape paintings and large cityscapes. During the late 1890s Hassam began to paint nostalgic scenes of women that brought emotion from viewers. The piece chosen for this case study, Improvisations, is one of the first of these new scenes that Hassam painted. This creates an importance to this particular painting as it begins to create a shift in how Hassam painted through the rest of his career. Although he didn’t completely stop painting landscapes, there was a shift towards painting women in homes that were taking part in activities that only the wealthy would participate in.

Throughout our study of art history this semester we have seen many ways of how women are depicted. Childe Hassam and his paintings are another way to explain this notion of womanhood. By understanding the activities the women in his scenes are taking part in and how they are depicted gives an insight into what many upper-class women did during this time and how they spent their days. By examining other pieces of Hassam’s work from this time there are a few generalizations that can be made. One in particular is the notion of music being an art. Art doesn’t have to only be represented by painting. By understanding this idea, it makes it easier to see that these women are doing more than just sitting around their homes waiting for their husbands to come home from work.

Improvisations by Childe Hassam is a revolutionary piece of work that was created around the middle of his career. This impressionist style painting shows a young woman positioned at a piano in a beautifully decorated room. It appears as if this room is a part of a home because of the painting hanging on the wall and the various vases arranged on the table to the side of the piano. The fact that there is a piano in this home already shows signs of wealth. Piano’s are very expensive instruments, to have one in your home and to have the time to learn how to play it shows that the women of the home weren’t a part of the work force, but they were more on the level of society women.

An interesting feature in this painting shows a piece of artwork hanging on the wall of this scene, and it also has musical implications. As seen hung directly above the piano there is a woman painted that is playing a harp. According to Elizabeth Broun the lady at the piano in this image seems to almost be a mirror image of the woman in the painting above her. They are both in a moment of action playing their instruments. The only difference is that the woman playing the harp is the only figure looking directly at the viewer, pulling this viewer into the musical scene. The fact that primary figure in the painting doesn’t seem to notice the viewer almost creates a sense of voyeurism. It is weird to the viewer that one figure is looking right at them while the other is not. Especially since it isn’t the actual figure that is catching our gaze. This idea of one looking and the other not looking creates a sense of disorder for the viewer. Although it isn’t the actual figure, having a figure look in the direction of the viewer is one of the ways that Hassam pulls us into the painting; the other is through light.

Another way that Hassam brings attention to certain parts of the painting is through his use of light. There is a great amount of natural light that enters the room through these large sunny windows seen on the left side of the canvas. It also appears that this light is used to focus on the woman sitting at the piano because of the amount of light that is shed onto her. It is interesting how there are many other paintings created by Hassam that have similarities to Improvisations, and light is definitely one of the strongest ones. There is nothing more beautiful than natural light and...
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