At the turn of the twentieth century a fundamental shift occurred to American art. The Romantic style of painting, so familiar and conventional for that period, was characterized by emphasis on portraying grand scenes in stark, clear lines and shapes. But new century brought the scent of new artistic trend, Impressionism that revealed fresh concern for atmosphere and light. Impressionism was conceived in France, where French Impressionists freed from the shackles of conventional painting in favor of a lighter style, style full of airy motives.
The Impressionists’ aim was to convey the impression of an object by capturing the patterns of light and color on and surrounding it. Quite contrary to Romanticism the Impressionism was devoid of sharp outlines or definite edges; everything was very ephemeral, almost illusory. It is recognized fact that the Impressionist style was the single most successful and identifiable “movement” ever, and is still widely practiced today. But as an intellectual school it faded towards the end of the 19th century, branching out into a variety of successive movements.
Undoubtedly one of the most vivid representatives of American Impressionism is Childe Hassam. He studied in Boston and later in Paris at the Academie Julian. So he had a direct contact with that specific atmosphere, he was often exposed to the works of the French Impressionists. Obviously such an experience could not be left without consequences. By the time he came back to America he had developed a truly Impressionist style with emphasis on urban views painted with a rich palette and broken brushwork. His painting Evening in New York reveals artist’s passion for light and color.
The light from the lanterns reflected by the wet surface of the road produces momentary effects, quite usual for Hassam’s paintings and overall Impressionist style. The colors are dim as if diluted by the water poured down from the evening sky. What concerns the technique applied here, colors are placed in juxtaposition with the purpose to create effects to be seen at a distance. This is a scene of ordinary life in New York. We can observe a usual horsed coach riding in the direction from the viewer into the hazy nowhere. The painting shows a simple coachman engaged in his own business at night in the rain.
Although the scene is set at street level, the viewpoint of the painting in general is from on high, as in many of Hassam’s New York views. It is with an aerial perspective. The tall buildings along the street perform the function as powerful symbols of national strength, while the obscure figures and vehicles below are usually little personify support to the state. Childe Hassan Evening in New York c. 1890 Oil on canvas Image retrieved from http://www. mfah. org/collection. asp? par1=3&par2=&par3=36&par6=3&par4=52&lgc=4¤tPage=3 In the painting “Evening in New York” violet color is a predominant color.
Every object on the picture is of that color or at least of the same spectrum. The choice of the color at its best adds to the impression the work is expected to make. Violet is the color of night and the color of deep water, the color of the cloudy sky and the mist that covers every single thing around creating a glamorous and mysterious impression. The masterful handling of colors, as it was mentioned, was the prime feature of Impressionism pieces of art. And really, the color of the Evening in New York is a source of beauty and pleasure. Mixed primary colors of red, yellow and blue beget complementary ones orange, violet.
This painting is fecited in palette of cold colors—violet, blue, and only slight strokes of warm color – yellow are there. In some places white and black are added for light and shade. In such a way an infinite number of color combinations inhale life into the painting. The work presents an incredible fascination by the bottomless sky, perspective view, and eye-catchy horizontality of the New York City as well as its emptiness and coldness. The intriguing moment is weather condition that wit its resultant fluent flow of light, color, and atmosphere.
The departing coach to the distant rear plane of the painting enlarges the sense of borderless space. The impression from the painting is of the same evasive structure as the image itself. The application of themes of rain and evening light conveyed through the cold palette leaves the feeling of coldness intertwined with the feeling of ambiguous freedom, infinity. The wet road resembles the flowing river that produces a chilly reflection of the misty sky. Currently the painting is exhibited in Museum of Fine arts, Houston.
References: Gerdts, William H. American Impressionism. Cross River Press, New York: 1984.