CHILDE HASSAM (1859–1935)
A Wet Day on Broadway, 1891
Pastel on fine-weave canvas, 18 x 21 7/8 in.
Signed and dated (at lower left): Childe Hassam 1891
EXHIBITED: probably Doll & Richards Gallery, Boston, 1891, Exhibition and Private Sale of Pastel and Watercolor Drawings by Childe Hassam, no. 7, as “A Wet Day on Broadway” // New York Water Color Club, New York, New York, 1893, IVth Annual Exhibition, no. 39, as “Broadway, Rainy Day”
EX COLL: [Doll & Richards Gallery, Boston, 1891]; Dwight Blaney, Brookline, Massachusetts, until 1944; by descent in the Blaney family, until 1993; to sale 7684, Christie’s, New York, May 26, 1993, no. 118, as “Horse Drawn Cabs, New York;” to private collection, New York, 1993 until the present
Hassam’s many views of Union Square and its environs were painted from various perspectives, sometimes from an elevated vantage point, as in such well-known works as Winter in Union Square (about 1892–92; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Union Square in Spring (1896; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts). He also created more intimate, street level views of the neighborhood, among them A Wet Day on Broadway, wherein, like many of his earlier views of Boston and Paris, he conceived the thoroughfare as a slanting diagonal that leads the viewer’s gaze from the carriages in the lower right to the cluster of buildings in the upper left quadrant of the composition––its tight cropping imbuing the scene with a vital sense of spontaneity. A Wet Day on Broadway serves as an important pictorial record of this section of Lower Broadway as it looked during the Gilded Age on a drizzly springtime day. The row of buildings on the right include the shop of A. A. Vantine & Co., a fashionable wholesale and retail importing house of Asian art and artifacts then located in the Hoyt Building at 877–879 Broadway between 18th and 19th Streets).
Hassam also underscores the mercantile aspect of the district by including another prominent structure further south. Indeed, in keeping with his belief that the city’s skyscrapers possessed a special beauty when seen not up close but “melting tenderly into the distance” is evident in the misty background, which is dominated by the distinctive domed silhouette of the Domestic Sewing Machine Building, located on the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street in Union Square. (The Domestic Sewing Machine Building also appears in other Union Square subjects by Hassam, including the aforementioned Winter in Union Square.) This early seven-story skyscraper was designed by the English-born architect Griffith Thomas (1820–1878) and built during 1872–73 on the site of the former mansion of Cornelius Roosevelt. The tallest cast-iron facade building erected in New York thus far, it was much admired for its height, its balustraded balconettes, its large display windows, and its high corner Mansard domed cupola, as well as the fact that it boasted a passenger elevator.
Larger in size than most of Hassam’s pastels, A Wet Day on Broadway dates from 1891, the year in which Hassam’s interest in using pastel surged. A major work in his pastel oeuvre, it is likely the piece exhibited in Hassam’s exhibition of pastels and watercolors held at Doll & Richards in November 1891. Local critics found his pastels particularly attractive, one pundit describing them as “delightful.... [Hassam’s] use of color is lavish, abundant and intelligent; he makes it sing for him in all sorts of keys.”