Saturday 2 April 2022

With Childe?

 The weather may be more wintry than vernal, but April is under way. And here is the strangest April painting I've come across – April (The Green Gown) by the American painter (Frederick) Childe Hassam. Nothing in this domestic interior indicates a particular time of year, apart from the slightly overblown tulips in a bowl on the floor. The mood is overwhelmingly melancholy, and the painting looks like something executed by a follower of Whistler in the 1890s or thereabouts, when Japonisme was all the rage. It was painted, however, in 1920, and, curiously, the picture was originally titled April 1859 (when such an interior would have been unheard-of). Some have taken it to be an imaginary portrait of the artist's mother, Rosa Hawthorne Hassam (a kinswoman of Nathaniel Hawthorne) – and in April 1859 she would have been three months pregnant with Frederick Childe. The placing of the hands lends plausibility to this theory, and the melancholy air is perhaps compounded of the languor and anxiety of early pregnancy, mingled with the solemn mystery of a new life coming into being. It seems a strange subject for a man in his sixties, at the peak of his success, to paint – or was he turning away from all that to look inward, to look back over his life, even to the time before it began, and wondering...?
  Childe Hassam, as he styled himself, is a little known figure on this side of the pond, but he had a very successful and prolific career in America, where he played a leading role in popularising European impressionism. With the rise of modernism and abstraction, he fell out of fashion, but his star rose again with the revival of interest in impressionism in the 1960s and after. One of his 'flag paintings', The Avenue in the Rain (below),  is in the White House permanent collection, and Barack Obama hung it in the Oval Office. April (The Green Gown) hangs in the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston.

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