CHILDE HASSAM (1859–1935)
Four-in-Hand at the Grand Prix, Paris, 1889
Pastel on paper, 14 x 10 in.
Signed and dated (at lower left): Childe / Hassam 1889
RECORDED: The Art Amateur XXIII (June 1890), p. 4 // Diane H. Pilgrim, “The Revival of Pastels in Nineteenth Century America: The Society of Painters in Pastel,” The American Art Journal X (November 1978), p. 62 fig. 24 illus.
EXHIBITED: Wunderlich Gallery, New York, 1890, Society of Painters in Pastel // Arthur H. Harlow & Co., New York, 1927, Etchings, Lithographs, Lithotints, Drawings, Watercolors and Pastels by Childe Hassam, no. 156 // John Nicholson Gallery, New York, 1944, Early Works by Childe Hassam, n.n. illus., as “Watching the Grand Prix, Longchamps” // The Lotos Club, New York, 1955, 85th Anniversary Exhibition: Works of Childe Hassam, no. 5, as “Four In Hand”
EX COLL.: the artist, 1889–1935; by bequest to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 1935–44; [John Nicholson Gallery, New York, 1944]; private collection, by 1955, until the present
Four-in-Hand at the Grand Prix, Paris, a study of a four-in-hand carriage and a variety of spectators at the Grand Prix in Paris, is an important pastel by Hassam from 1889. That year was a pivotal one for Hassam, who consolidated his Parisian experiences and returned to the United States full of energy and direction. He soon was a dominant figure in the New York art scene, exhibiting widely in a variety of media. Pastel, previously not a part of Hassam’s oeuvre, figured prominently in his work at this juncture as he launched himself into activity, producing a number of pastels and participating exuberantly in the fledgling and short-lived Society of Painters in Pastel, which lasted from about 1884 to 1890. Hassam sent a large group of works, including this pastel, to the Society’s fourth and final exhibition at the Wunderlich Gallery, New York, in May 1890, where his works garnered rave reviews:
An attractive feature wee [sic] the small figure compositions by Childe Hassam, who has made prodigious progress within the last year or two. There were three very spirited little pictures representing scenes at the Grand Prix de Paris, a “September Afternoon from a Paris Café,” a charming view in the opening into the Bois de Boulogne, a sketch in a New York Blizzard, and a small study of a girl’s head “At the Races.” Considering that this was the artist’s first essay in pastels, his success with the medium is remarkable. “The Grand Prix” studies were comparable with similar bits by De Nittis, the atmospheric qualities, the color tones, were not only excellent, but there was also demonstrated an ability to render the character and style of “mondains” and “mondaines” in which the American generally fails. But this has never been a difficult matter with Mr. Hassam (The Art Amateur XXIII [June 1890], p. 4).
The critic’s comparison of Hassam to the Italian painter, Giuseppe de Nittis (1846–1884), is apt. Hassam’s views of the street life of Paris ally him strongly with de Nittis, who pioneered the genre in the early 1870s. Americans particularly admired De Nittis for his pastels, which he painted boldly and expressively, exploiting the draftsman-like qualities of the medium to catch fleeting moments of light, color, and motion, and to produce on-the-spot sketches of great spontaneity and life. Though Hassam was late coming to the pastel medium, it is evident from works such as Four-in-Hand at the Grand Prix, Paris that he quickly mastered it.
Four-in-Hand at the Grand Prix, Paris represents the culmination of Hassam’s interest in the elegant women who attended the Grand Prix that began when Hassam was in Paris in 1887. Two other closely related works that focus on women standing atop their carriages as they attempt to view the race are At the Grand Prix (private collection), a pastel from 1887, and At Grand Prix (private collection), a watercolor and gouache from 1888.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Hassam’s work in preparation by Stuart P. Feld and Kathleen M. Burnside.