CHILDE HASSAM (1859–1935)
Elizabeth Wolcott Tuckerman, 1892
Pastel on paper, 17 x 14 in.
Signed and dated (at lower left): 'Childe Hassam. 1892
EXHIBITED: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1987, Painters in Pastel: A Survey of American Works, p. 37 no. 29 illus. in color as "Edith Wolcott Tuckerman"
EX COLL.: the artist; to Mr. and Mrs. Bayard Tuckerman; to their daughter, Elizabeth Wolcott Tuckerman Elkins, Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, until 1942; to her husband, William Elkins, until 1947, and by descent in the family, until 1983; to [Newhouse Gallery, New York, 1983]; to [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1983]; to private collection, Los Angeles, California, 1983 until the present
Elizabeth Wolcott Tuckerman is a rare example of Hassam’s work in pastel, executed at a time when he was producing some of the finest impressionist works of his career. While Hassam had experimented with pastels during his 1886–89 trip to Paris, his production in the medium peaked around the time of the fourth and final exhibition of the Society of Painters in Pastel in 1890, in which several of his works were exhibited to wide critical acclaim. Hassam’s pastels, like his watercolors, display a sense of spontaneity and intimacy not seen in his larger-scale oils of the same period. His natural facility for the medium, combined with his responsiveness to light, pure colors, and the broken strokes he used after his time abroad, have resulted in some of the truest and best American interpretations of the French Impressionist idiom. Elizabeth Wolcott Tuckerman is one of a small group of portraits in pastel that Hassam executed in the early 1890s. As in this work, Hassam paid careful attention to the delineation of facial features in these portraits and rendered details of the dress and background in a more freely handled manner.
Child Hassam painted Elizabeth Wolcott Tuckerman in 1892, presumably on commission by her parents, Bayard and Ann Cotton Smith Tuckerman. Bayard Tuckerman (1855–1923) was a lecturer on English literature at Princeton University and the author of several books.
Hassam’s image of a young Elizabeth Tuckerman is, addition to its technical mastery, a charming portrait of a child who does not look pleased to be sitting for her portrait. With the natural gifts of blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair framing her face with two generous ringlets, Elizabeth stares straight ahead, betraying not a glimmer of a smile. Someone has “dressed her up” for the occasion, with a frock whose wide white ruffled cape collar extends over her shoulders extending into sleeves of matching fabric. Indeed, the artist takes an impressionist’s delight in his rendering of the play of light reflected through the white material. Hassam, however, also took care to record the bead necklace Elizabeth wears, as it rests willy nilly atop one tip of the small pointed collar, but is properly tucked under the facing point. This is small gesture, perhaps of defiance, underlined by the child’s resolutely crossed arms.