Distant Valley, Montauk, 1924
Childe Hassam was one of many American artists who around the turn of the twentieth century departed from a formal, academic style to adopt the vigorous brushstroke and vivid palette of the French impressionists. Like their European counterparts, these painters produced landscape, figure, and genre works that captured aestheticized glimpses of their subjects in fleeting conditions of light and atmosphere.In 1898, Hassam helped found the influential group of American impressionists known as The Ten; among its members were Frank W. Benson, John Twachtman, and J. Alden Weir. Hassam played a key role in promoting impressionism within the American art world. These efforts--and the particular popularity of his many urban and coastal paintings among critics, the public, and his fellow artists--led him to be regarded as the preeminent American impressionist.
At his death in 1935, Hassam bequeathed the contents of his studio, including 326 oil paintings, eighty-nine watercolors, and thirty-three pastels, to the American Academy of Arts in New York, stipulating that they be sold to establish a fund for the purchase of works by American and Canadian artists. Once purchased, the art was to be donated to American museums. Sales of the artist’s paintings to create the Hassam Fund reaped the present-day equivalent of nearly $3 million. Distant Valley, Montauk was one of the works in Hassam’s studio, and so its eventual donation to the Ulrich Museum helped fulfill the desire that had motivated him to make his bequest.
The Ulrich’s painting is an idyllic view of several people basking in the late-afternoon sun as it casts a glow across a stretch of seaside dunes and shoreline. The image aptly reflects Hassam’s life in the 1920s. In 1919, he bought a beautiful 18th-century house, called Willow Bend, in East Hampton on Long Island and summered there every year until his death. Many of his later paintings were of subjects in that town and its vicinity. During the 1920s, he made numerous excursions and camping trips to Long Island locales such as Montauk with friends and fellow painters. For Hassam, this painting, which appears to be of a paradise imagined, might actually have been an attempt to depict a paradise he had found.
--Timothy Rodgers, director of the Scottsdale (Arizona) Museum of Contemporary Art