CHILDE HASSAM (1859–1935)
New York Street Scene (Rainy Day, New York), 1892
Watercolor, gouache, and charcoal on paper, 15 x 10 1/4 in.
Signed and dated (at lower right): Childe Hassam 1892
EX COLL: Mrs. Charles McAlpin Pyle, New York, by 1929; to her sister-in-law, Zene Montgomery (Mrs. Gordon) Pyle, New York; to her great-niece, Diana Pyle (Mrs. Joseph) Rowan, New York, until the present
New York Street Scene (Rainy Day, New York) features a hansom cab and a stylishly dressed pedestrian making their way along a rain-soaked stretch of Broadway. The tightly cropped view (which the artist may have painted while sitting up front in a carriage, as was often his custom) looks south from about 19th Street to Union Square, the diagonal of the street serving to move the spectator’s gaze towards the looming buildings in the distance, their blurry forms enveloped in a veil of mist. The domed structure on the distant left, at the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street, is the Domestic Sewing Machine Company, an eight-story cast-iron building designed in the French Second Empire style by architect Griffith Thomas and completed in 1873. The edifice at the far right––erected in 1884 as a showroom for the Gorham Manufacturing Company–– still stands at the northwest corner of East 18th Street and Broadway.
New York Street Scene (Rainy Day, New York) attests to Hassam's enduring interest in watercolor, a medium lauded for its spontaneity and translucent, light reflecting property, as well as its easy portability. Undaunted by watercolor’s fluid nature, which demanded that an artist work quickly and with great control, Hassam remained a devoted watercolorist throughout his career, contributing to the medium’s popularity in American art circles through his participation in the exhibitions of the American Water Color Society and later the New York Water-Color Club, where he served as president from 1890 to 1896. In fact, during his early years in New York, Hassam was better known for his scintillating watercolors than for his oils; in 1890, writing in reference to the watercolors Hassam exhibited at the American Watercolor Society’s annual show, a critic for the Nation declared that “no better water-colors have ever been seen in these exhibitions” (“Fine Arts: Exhibition of the American Water Color Society,” Nation 50 [February 27, 1890], p. 88). Hassam’s expertise in manipulating this difficult medium is readily apparent in the the present work, wherein the artist defines his subject by means of fluent brushwork, alternating between broad washes of color and heavier, more opaque touches. Composed primarily of blues, violets, reddish-pinks and an array of buff tones, his palette is augmented by deftly applied daubs and dashes of white and yellow which add verve and sparkle to the image, despite the inclement weather.