Childe Hassam Improvisation
Technic: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 76,3 x 86,2 cm
Location: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Art Movement: Impressionism
Painted at the Isles of Shoals off New Hampshire, where Childe Hassam (1859 – 1935) passed many summers, Improvisation depicts the niece of Hassam’s friend the poet Celia Thaxter, playing the piano. Seated by a window, her head is haloed against lush nature, which spills inside and blends with the room’s curtains. Single blossoms in elongated vases are scattered across the piano top and the polished table in the foreground, their arrangement resembling notes on a musical score.
Hassam’s impressionistic brush strokes, the pastel hues shot through with touches of white, embody a rhythm of their own, making the entire image a visual as well as a musical improvisation. Many nineteenth-century artists were intrigued by the relationship between painting and music and sought to give visual form to sound. By harmonizing the pastel palette with the horizontal and vertical elements such as the piano top and the picture frame on the wall, Hassam alludes to music’s underlying structure, while his bravura paint handling evokes the freedom of improvisation. When exhibited in Chicago around 1900, la critic described it simply as “marvelously beautiful.”