Frederick Childe Hassam was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1859. In 1876, Hassam was apprenticed to a local wood engraver, where he became a freelance illustrator soon thereafter. In the evenings he attended the life class at the Boston Art Club, then briefly studied anatomy with William Rimmer at the Lowell Institute, a division of MIT, and took private lessons from the German-born painter Ignaz Gaugengigl.
In 1883, Childe Hassam traveled to Great Britain, Holland, Spain, and Italy, where he produced a large number of watercolors that were exhibited at the Williams and Everett Gallery in Boston later that year. Once home, in 1884, Hassam married Kathleen Maude Doane and lived in Boston until the spring of 1886, when the couple left for Europe. In Paris, Hassam studied figure painting with Lucien Dorcet, Gustave Boulanger, and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre at the Académie Julian, and exhibited his work at the Salons of 1887 and 1888. In 1889 the Hassams returned to the United States and settled in New York. Hassam subsequently assisted in founding the New York Watercolor Club and joined the Pastel Society of New York. He also began to exhibit with the Society of American Artists.
In 1897 he was a founder of The Ten – A group of American painters from New York and Boston who exhibited together from 1898-1919. They had been members of the Society of American Artists, but resigned from this organization upon deciding that its exhibitions were too too large and conservative. Most of the Ten had studied in Paris in the 1880s and were greatly influenced by French Impressionism. The Ten were were: Thomas E. Dewing (1851-1938), Edward E. Simmons (1852-1931), Julien Alden Weir (1852-1919), John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), Joseph R. De Camp (1858-1923), Willard L. Metcalf (1858-1925), Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Frank Benson (1862-1951), Robert Reid (1862-1929), and Edmund C. Tarbell (1862-1938); with William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916) taking the place of Twachtman upon his death. Although their art was not particularly radical, they were important in the context of modern art in helping to establish a tradition of setting up exhibiting organizations independent of official bodies, foreshadowing the Armory Show.
During the 1890s and the following two decades, Childe Hassam spent his summers painting throughout New England. His favorite sites were Old Lyme, Connecticut, and Appledore, on the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, where he produced some of his best known works.
A prolific and industrious artist, Hassam numerous scenes of his paintings featured both the city and the countryside. Many of his early street scenes include Boston, Paris, and New York, with their reflections of wet pavement or of gaslight on the snow, evidenced a talent for capturing the effects of light and atmosphere.
Childe Hassam is famous for his series of twenty-two flag paintings, which he began in 1916, when he was inspired by a “Preparedness Parade”, for World War I, held on Fifth Avenue in New York. Monet, among other French artists, had also painted flag-themed works, but Hassam’s have a different, distinctly American character. They all depict Fifth Aveue, Fifty-Seventh Street, or streets near Hassam’s gallery at the time, which was on West Fifty-Seventh Street. The Metropolitan Museum, the New-York Historical Society and the National Gallery of Art all own a Hassam flag painting.
Throughout his career Hassam garnered numerous awards and prizes and earned the attention of the collectors George A. Hearn, John Gellatly, and Charles Freer. His work was widely exhibited throughout the country, and in the 1913 Armory Show Hassam was represented by six paintings, five pastels, and a drawing. About 1915 he turned to printmaking, producing etchings and drypoints first, and lithographs about two years later. By 1933 a catalogue raisonné of his intaglio prints listed 376 different plates. Toward the end of his life Hassam most often exhibited graphic works.
Childe Hassam had purchased a home in East Hampton in 1819 and he died there in 1935. Shortly before his death he arranged to bequeath all the paintings remaining in his studio to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. According to his wish they were sold to establish a fund for the purchase of American works to be donated to museums.