The Flag, Fifth Avenue (Primary Title)
Throughout a lengthy career depicting various subjects, Hassam was drawn to the city as a theme. As a young Bostonian, he produced delicately brushed street scenes in tonal Barbizon-inspired hues. Study in Paris in the late 1880s reinforced his interest in urban views, which he defined in expressive brushstrokes – a stylistic shift revealing exposure to French Impressionism, though the determinedly nationalistic Hassam denied the influence. At century’s end, the painter relocated to New York City, where rising skyscrapers captured his imagination and populated his canvases.
The Flag, Fifth Avenue is part of a larger series of paintings that were inspired by patriotic displays held during World War I. Whereas most of the related canvases present lively, colorful views of flags billowing above the city’s grand avenues, this scene is muted and still. An oversize American flag hangs prominently before a sweeping vista of the city, but the high-rise view also takes in the upper floors of unremarkable buildings and untidy clusters of rooftop sheds. Although refined by Hassam’s characteristic shimmer of broken brushwork, it is a prosaic glimpse more aligned with the realist sensibilities of the Ashcan artists – a group the painter nonetheless dismissed as his “contemptuaries.”
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