In A New York Blizzard Childe Hassam evoked with vivid calligraphy a few well-dressed pedestrians buffeted by blowing snow. So hastily did he draw the scene that one can even imagine his working outdoors during a blizzard! This lively sheet signals Hassam’s role as the principal American Impressionist interpreter of New York City, announces his command of the then popular pastel medium, and includes some of his favorite devices.
Born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Hassam studied in Boston, worked as an illustrator, and by 1885 was painting urban scenes unprecedented in America. Following a path familiar to aspiring American artists, he went to Paris in 1886 and enrolled in the popular Académie Julian. More nourishing than formal study in Paris was Hassam’s exposure there to a banquet of works by Academics, by conservative realists whose canvases had inspired his Boston cityscapes, and by Impressionists. Hassam was exceptional for his sympathy to Impressionism during the late 1880s; most of his compatriots would adopt the style only in the 1890s.
Rather than returning to Boston, Hassam settled in New York in 1890 and began a pattern of alternating winters in the city with summers in various New England locales. “I believe the man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him,” he insisted in 1892. Yet, confronting a bewildering time when agrarian values gave way to urbanization and industrialization, he portrayed urban and rural America as if through rose-colored glasses. In New York, for example, he ignored the new heterogeneity and hardships, romanticized symbols of modernism such as skyscrapers, and emphasized fast-fading Gilded Age gentility.
A New York Blizzard reiterates motifs that had appeared even in Hassam’s earliest Boston scenes. Figures are challenged by, but do not suffer in the snow, which Hassam often depicted to soften sharp edges of buildings and muffle urban clatter. A nostalgic note is provided by the prominent gas lamp, a vestige of older technology that would soon give way to electricity. The monochromatic triad of silhouetted black coats and umbrellas, white snow, and gray paper suggests Hassam’s interest in flat pattern and design, which accords with his selective — not journalistic — interpretation of “his own time.”
Source: H. Barbara Weinberg, "A New York Blizzard," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 211.