Vesuvius
by Childe Hassam
34.6-Hassam_Vesuvius-Hirshhorn-66.2408
Childe Hassam (American, 1859–1935), Vesuvius, 1897. Oil on canvas mounted on canvas mounted on wood, 25½ × 31 in. (64.7 × 78.6 cm). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1966, 66.2408

The subject

Vesuvius dates to the beginning of Hassam’s sojourn in Italy, France, and Great Britain from 1896 to 1898. He and his wife Maud arrived in Naples in December 1896 when he painted views of Posilipo, Capri, and the Bay of Naples. While he had visited Italy in 1883, he had painted only in watercolor. In 1896 he finally had a chance to work in oil and the visit was enormously productive. [1]

At the Armory Show

Four of the six oils Hassam exhibited at the Armory Show date to this 1896-1898 trip. [2] Vesuvius was reproduced as one of the fifty-seven postcards of objects in the exhibition, though it is unclear why the organizers chose this canvas over the others.

The critics’ response

Overall the reviews of Hassam’s works in the show were positive, especially among the more conservative critics. But the forward-looking critics who were more receptive to modern trends were not as complimentary. A writer in Forum noted: “Hassam’s paintings never fail to catch the eye like a fine dress, a specious countenance, for a brief moment only, —all is on the surface.” [3]

The artist’s response

Hassam also engaged in the debate over what constituted “genuine” art. He felt that much of what was on view at the Armory Show it was “fraudulent,” a group of “absurdities” assembled by the organizers in an attempt to attract attention and make money.  [4] Over the years he made no attempt to hide his disdain for modern art and jumped at any opportunity to rail against the more advanced paintings in the Armory Show as “shockingly foolish,” “idiotic,” and “extreme.” [5]

[1] H. Barbara Weinberg, “Hassam’s Travels, 1892-1914,” in Weinberg, ed., Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004), 183.

[2] The others are cat. no. 72, The Spanish Stairs (Los Angeles County Museum of Art); cat. no. 73, Naples (private collection); and cat no. 75, Posilippo (now called Bridge at Posilippo, Naples) (private collection).

[3] W. D. MacColl, “The International Exhibition of Modern Art: An Impression,” Forum 50 (July 1913), 24.

[4] Childe Hassam, “Twenty-Five Years of American Painting,” Art News 26 (April 14, 1928), 22; and De Witt M. Lockman Interviews with Artists, February 2, 1927, New-York Historical Society, microfilm reel 2, frame 383.

[5] Childe Hassam, “Twenty-Five Years of American Painting,” 22.

Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

The American Impressionist painter Childe Hassam was active in a large number of artist organizations throughout his career, but he declined membership in the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, stating that he was already involved in too many such groups. [1] Neverthless, he sent six oils and five pastels to the Armory Show. His works were hung alongside those of his friend Julian Alden Weir; the two were the oldest American painters represented in the exhibition. [2]

After the Armory Show Hassam engaged in the debate over what constituted “genuine” art. He felt that much of the contemporary European work in the exhibition was “fraudulent,” a group of “absurdities” assembled by the organizers in an attempt to attract attention and make money. [3] Over the years he made no attempt to hide his disdain for modern art and jumped at any opportunity to rail against the more advanced paintings in the Armory Show as “shockingly foolish,” “idiotic,” and “extreme.” [4] This strident defense of American art, and vitriolic attitude toward European modernism, reflected not only Hassam’s own pride in his New England ancestry, but also the spirit of isolation and cultural nationalism that grew in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.

[1] Childe Hassam to Walt Kuhn, January 15, 1912, Walt Kuhn Family Papers, Series 2: Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) Records, 1911-1914, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institutition, box 3, folder 3, image 25.

[2] H. Barbara Weinberg, “Introduction,” in H. Barbara Weinberg, ed., Childe Hassam: American Impressionist, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004), 18.

[3] Childe Hassam, “Twenty-Five Years of American Painting,” Art News 26 (April 14, 1928), 22; and De Witt M. Lockman Interviews with Artists, February 2, 1927, New-York Historical Society, microfilm reel 2, frame 383.

[4] Childe Hassam, “Twenty-Five Years of American Painting,” 22.

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