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Amagansett, Long Island, New York

On view

Amagansett, Long Island, New York

Artist: Childe Hassam (American, 1859 - 1935)

Date: 1920
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Framed: 29 x 39 x 2 1/4in. (73.7 x 99.1 x 5.7cm)
Image: 20 x 30in. (50.8 x 76.2cm)
Signed: l.r.: 'Childe Hassam Amagansett 1920'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 58.7
Text Entries

The eastern end of Long Island, New York, notably that area on the South Fork surrounding the villages of “the Hamptons,” has attracted artists since the late nineteenth century.(1) Childe Hassam joined the ranks of artists flocking to the area when he purchased a home on Egypt Lane in East Hampton in 1920. Although first introduced to the region some two decades before, in 1898, when he visited the home of fellow artist and friend G. Ruger Donoho (1857-1916), Hassam returned to the area only occasionally until he bought from Donoho’s widow an eighteenth-century shingle cottage adjacent to the Donoho home. Over the next decade and a half, the sixty-year- old artist spent long summers in residence in East Hampton and, to a great extent, retired from the peripatetic lifestyle of his younger years. Consequently, much of his production during this period draws upon the native scenery and habitat of the East End—expansive beaches and sand dunes, the Atlantic Ocean and the adjoining bays, broad farmland and lush golf courses, and, of course, the houses, gardens, and streets of the local villages.

Amagansett, Long Island, New York of 1920 takes as its subject one of the local farms in the area, in a community several miles east of East Hampton. Across a wide field in which a lone horse is grazing are clustered the various outbuildings of a farm, nestled harmoniously among trees abundant with foliage. The natural, unadorned beauty and tranquility of the native landscape as depicted in this canvas are emblematic of a theme to which Hassam returns consistently in his late career. His paintings of eastern Long Island during the last decades of his life reveal an aging artist’s increasing interest in producing an art dealing with themes of enduring importance, paintings that move to the overtly symbolic.(2) While Hassam continued to render on canvas impressionistic interpretations of his new environment, his artistic vision was profoundly colored by his concern with issues of symbolic message, as well as his interest in decorative pattern and design at the expense of naturalistic depiction. Although he adhered to the stylistic heritage of French Impressionism, perhaps more consistently than any other American Impressionist, a significant portion of his production from as early as 1900 suggests a persistent symbolic vein that ought not to be ignored. Hassam’s late work of this vein has often been dismissed as incongruous to the artist’s impressionist vision.

Amagansett, Long Island, New York is a painting that belongs in one sense with Hassam’s more directly transcribed late landscapes in that it does not introduce extraordinary characters, yet it still may be considered within the context of the artist’s growing anti-naturalism. Although Hassam was himself part of a wave of sophisticated urbanites whose gathering in East Hampton necessarily changed the old colonial community, he, in nostalgic yearning not atypical of the post-World War I era, glorified in paint, watercolor, and print the pastoral and arcadian beauty of the undeveloped area. His subjects of the period repeatedly extol American bounty and heritage: the simple grace of colonial architecture, the congenial atmosphere of the village streets, the beauty of the native flora, and the grandeur of the undeveloped landscape. Amagansett, Long Island, New York is one of a number of works by the artist that is devoted to the theme of farming or to the ritualistic cycle of planting and harvesting, suggesting Hassam’s preoccupation with time and the essential cycles of life.(3)

Like many of Hassam’s late landscapes, the painting is horizontally composed, thus emphasizing the broad panoramic reach of the land. The painting’s rigid broken brushwork, its naively geometricized composition, its stylized treatment of the sky, grass, and trees, and the vivid, expressive use of pigment is characteristic of the artist’s late style. Despite Hassam’s avowed dislike for modern art and, in fact, in late life his almost jingoistic attitude toward European influences on American art, he was not untouched by the changes in art wrought by Cézanne and other modernists. His increasing concern with a controlled, manipulated composition, as evidenced here in the use of flattened planes receding parallel to the picture, as well as the emphasis on the surface design suggest not only Hassam’s interest in pattern, but, in a larger sense, an artist’s prerogative to render form in a manner besides naturalistic representation.

 

Notes

1. A considerable amount has been written on the art history of Long Island, most notably by Ronald G. Pisano, whose recent publication, Long Island Landscape Painting 1820-1920 (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1985), is an excellent survey of the subject.

2. In the winter of 1924-25 the artist had an important one-man exhibition of his recent work of eastern Long Island subjects at the galleries of William Macbeth in New York City. The exhibition, titled Montauk after the easternmost town on Long Island, consisted of twenty paintings which the artist had executed over the past few years. Most of the works included in the show, unlike the Utica painting, were paintings that directly revealed the artist’s interest in classical and mythical themes as if he were aligning his art with a grand tradition. In works such as his Adam and Eve Walking Out on Montauk in Early Spring (Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York), or his Nine Muses Celebrating the Indian Corn in Flower (location unknown), he inserted mythical characters into a landscape that only draws its inspiration from the actual locale. This exhibition drew mixed reviews, mystifying some enthusiasts of Hassam’s work. Subsequently, these allegorical works have been largely ignored.

3. Other works along this theme include his 1923 Jonathan Baker Farm (location unknown), his 1923 Spring Planting (Delaware Art Museum), his 1926 Spring at Easthampton (private collection), and his 1932 Long Island Husbandry (private collection).

 

Copyright
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