Sunday, January 17, 2016

MWA XXXVII: Hassam's Winter

I know I am not alone when I say that winter landscape scenes are perhaps some of my most favorite subjects in paintings. There is something breathtaking in the vision of falling and new-fallen snow that many artists over the centuries have attempted to represent, knowing full well this is an idealistic sense of reality. In our automobile/truck-occupied world today, snow plows and vehicles quickly make the snow disgusting, slush turns gray and gross, and for all eternity neighborhood dogs like should we say?...turn white snow yellow as fast as they can! Nevertheless, there is something tranquil about watching snow fall from the skies, then afterward listening to children play in the snow and wandering out in the crisp air admiring the effect of the snow on trees and houses. Snow is about the power of nature to purify and cleanse, and in a major city like New York it is fascinating to see how snow even here can diminish the noise and bustle of the urban environment and make it as serene as a country landscape, if but for a short while. It is the white-ness of new-fallen snow, with its Western associations of purity and innocence, that has the power to blanket and coat the urban environment and create a visual sense of rebirth.

From a painter's perspective there is the trick of how to represent the actual effects of snow. It would seem easy to just use white paint, but light and shadows play tricks on snow, and one realizes there is no such thing as snow that is just one white hue. Artists such as Childe Hassam, in the work you see here as this Monthly Work of Art, used tones of icy blue in this representation of Central Park South/59th Street on a snowy late afternoon, just before twilight, suggesting how the setting sun's rays, at a sharp angle, give snow an iridescent quality. Hassam was one of the most successful American Impressionists. Influenced by Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro, Hassam and other Americans by the 1890s were absorbing the lessons they learned in Paris and introducing to an American audience their version of paintings that showed both the transience of modern American life, often using short, quick brushstrokes to suggest action and immediacy, but also playing with the visual effects of light on the world around them to create a unique vision of how the artist saw the world. Although I always admit that I am not a big fan of Impressionist painting, I certainly can appreciate the talents and skillful experiments many of these artists exuded. And, as in this case, I do love a beautiful winter landscape scene, particularly one that shows a historical view of New York.

Image credit: Frederick Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935). Late Afternoon, New York, Winter, 1900, oil on canvas, 36 15/16 x 29 in., Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 62.68.

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