'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

September 17, 2016

At Dusk: Boston Common at Twilight




The snowfall has ended in Hassam's view, but something of its enchantment remains. The fading light casts its rosy glow, turning the snow pink and encouraging contemplation. Hassam's selection of dusk, with its traditional associations of nostalgia and longing, of the inevitable passage of time, lends his painting a calm, thoughtful air, at least to twenty-first century eyes, colors and covers over the clamor of traffic, the frenzied activiry of rush hour.

I had already known that Childe Hassam, an artist I'm always drawn to, had painted a few scenes of Boston, because I love to visit two of them {this one and this one} whenever I go to the Museum of Fine Arts.  But somehow I never realized until a few weeks ago that he was born in the Dorchester section of Boston, and that makes me even happier. :)

And so did this book.  It's essentially a 'biography' of this iconic painting, and as you might guess, anything that extends the idea of a biography into another area is wonderful to me.  {Ms. Hirshler, a curator at the MFA, has written a similar book about this Sargent painting, another favorite of mine.}
  '

She tells us that At Dusk was one of Hassam's earliest paintings, and was dismissed by critics when it was exhibited in the early 1890s (it went unsold, and was finally purchased in a 'clearance sale'). For a long time, this painting, reproduced on the coffee mugs and holiday cards sold in the gift shop, seems to have been mostly a sentimental icon; in the 1970s, when it was lent to the mayor's office, 'perhaps this peaceful vision also acted as a political statement ... projecting to his guests a sense of harmony and calm during an era of political and racial turbulence.'

But what was fascinating {and surprising} to learn was how innovative, and 'modern,' this painting was for its time.  Hassam was one of the earliest artiists to paint urban scenes {in an earlier painting, he recorded his fascination with the way rain looked on the city's newly paved streets}, and his 'deliberately muted palette, with its gentle harmonies of rusts and browns' was seen as an alternative to the brighter colors being used by the Impressionists {and by Hassam himself, later}.  But as she tells its story, Hirshler writes in depth about its subject matter:  the changing nature of Tremont Street, where a colonnade of houses was being replaced by commerical buildings, the streetcars, the new, much brighter streetlights, one little girl's very fashionable fur-trimmed coat, and even the idea that it was becoming acceptable {in Boston, at least} for a respectable young woman {in her subdued dress, not engaging with the men crowding the sidewalk} to walk and linger, unescorted, on a city street.

All things I didn't know; a short, fascinating, delightful book...and now I can't wait to visit this painting again.


Childe Hassam, At Dusk:  Boston Common at Twilight, by Erica E. Hirshler
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2005
Borrowed, from the Boston Public Library, and now on my bookshelf

3 comments:

JoAnn said...

A biography of a painting... leave it to you to find such book! :) I was not familiar with Childe Hassam before reading about him on your blog, but plan to seek out several paintings at The Met next month.

Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock said...

This is lovely, Audrey. I love Childe Hassam's work and I am so pleased that he painted places you know.

Vintage Reading said...

Stunning painting and very interesting post. I wish I knew more about art.

Thank you for visiting!

Card Catalog

#6barsets #emma200th #maisie #PalliserParty #Woolfalong A.A. Milne Agatha Christie Alexander McCall Smith Amy Lowell Angela Thirkell Ann Bridge Anne Perry Anthony Trollope Anticipation Armchair Travels Art Audiobooks Barbara Pym Biography Bloomsbury Bookish things Boston British Library Crime Classics Cambridge Cathleen Schine Charles Dickens Charlotte Bronte Coffee-table books Cookbooks D.E. Stevenson Deborah Crombie Donna Leon Dorothy L. Sayers E.H. Young E.M. Forster Edith Wharton Elinor Lipman Elizabeth Gaskell Elizabeth Jenkins Elizabeth Taylor Elizabeth von Arnim Emily Dickinson Ernest Hemingway Eudora Welty Fiction Films Food from Books Food Writing Found on a Blog George Eliot Georgette Heyer Helen Ashton Henry James History Homes and Haunts Ideas Imogen Robertson Isabella Stewart Gardner Jacqueline Winspear Jane Austen Joanna Trollope Julia Child Language Laurie Colwin Letters Library Books Literature Louise Andrews Kent Louise Penny M.F.K. Fisher Madame Bovary Madame de Sévigné Madame de Staël Margaret Kennedy Margery Sharp Mary Shelley Memoirs Miss Read My Year with Edith Mysteries Nathaniel Hawthorne Nonfiction Nook Only Connect P.D. James Paris in July Persephones Plays Poetry Pride and Prejudice 200 Queen Victoria R.I.P. Reading England 2015 Ruth Rendell Sarah Orne Jewett Short Stories Switzerland Sylvia Beach Team Middlemarch The 1924 Club the Carlyles The Classics Club Thomas Hardy Virago Virginia Woolf Washington Irving Willa Cather William Maxwell Winifred Peck Winifred Watson