Washington's Birthday—5th Avenue and 23rd Street
Etching on wove paper
Gift of Mrs. Hersey Egginton in memory of her son, Everett Egginton, Class of 1921; PR.954.20.237
The impressionist painter Childe Hassam was one of the first academically trained American artists to turn to New York subjects in the late nineteenth century, and from early on he took a special interest in daily life along one of the city’s most majestic thoroughfares, Fifth Avenue. Between 1916 and 1919, Hassam created a series of about a dozen paintings of the avenue decked with flags of the Allies during World War I. In 1915, in the midst of a successful career as a painter, Hassam began to exhibit etchings and drypoints as well, which he continued to make throughout the remainder of his life. In this, one of his most admired etchings and the print most closely related to his flag paintings, he expresses in a graphic medium the impressionist interest in light, movement, and atmosphere more commonly applied to rural subjects. As the critic Royal Cortissoz noted in 1925, Hassam’s etchings convey “his painter-like feeling, which transmutes into black and white much of both the body and subtlety of color.” The famed Flatiron Building anchors the composition in the distance, yet the diffuse light softens the skyscraper’s architectural details and gives the scene a romantic, otherworldly character. The atmospheric approach also relates to the soft-focus pictorialist photographs of urban subjects from the early twentieth century, particularly Edward Steichen’s famous 1905 view of the Flatiron Building from a nearly identical vantage point.
Last Updated: 4/14/09