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Fun with Flags

March 17, 2017

He was swarthy enough to look exotic, a fact he exploited, telling friends his blood was Middle Eastern. His name gave credence to the ruse—Hassam—which sounds like Has’sam (Arabic) although it was actually pronounced HASS’m.


Childe Hassam was an American Impressionist painter, but for years he included a crescent moon with the signature on his paintings. He even adopted the nickname “Muley” (from the Arabic for Lord or master), invoking Muley Abul Hassan, a fifteenth-century ruler of Granada in Washington Irving’s novel Tales of the Alhambra.


I mention this because one of Hassam’s paintings resides in a famous location. You might not recognize Hassam’s name but you’ve seen photos of his work, even though you might not realize it.


Childe Hassam may have wished he were Middle Eastern, but he was actually born in Boston. He studied in Paris during the era of the Impressionists. When he returned to America in the 1880s, he followed the advice of a friend who told him to resist painting like a European. He was encouraged to paint the American life he knew. The streets of New York, he was told, were as valid a subject for painting as the Colosseum. Hassam followed the advice and began painting urban settings, but instead of mimicking French Impressionists his paintings took on a decidedly American flavor.


At first his work was not well regarded, considered too experimental, but in time his paintings began selling. It wasn’t long before he was the envy of his struggling artist friends. Thanks to artists like Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt and John Henry Twachtman, Impressionism gained a foothold on the American art scene.


In spite of his empathy for the exotic Middle East, Hassam was extremely patriotic, and when World War I broke out he began his “Flag Series.” Artists like Monet had included flags in paintings but they didn’t evoke the same feelings of patriotism present in Hassam’s work. Some of Hassam’s canvases were auctioned to raise money for the war effort.


In the early 1960’s, Hassam’s 1917 painting The Avenue in the Rain was donated to the White House. It hung on various walls in the residence until Jimmy Carter had it moved to the Oval Office. It didn’t always stay there, but George W. Bush and Barack Obama kept it as part of their décor. Trump hasn’t gotten around to replacing it…yet.



The Avenue in the Rain by Childe Hassam from White House Collection (1917)



Here are a few other paintings from the series:















 These days Hollywood includes The Avenue in the Rain in all recreations of the Oval Office, including Madam Secretary and Designated Survivor, among others. I wonder how long Hassam’s painting will remain in place if Trump learns of “Muley” Hassam’s affinity for the Middle East. Interesting that a painter with such a reverence for that troubled region would come to be considered one of America’s most patriotic painters.





I wonder what Childe Hassam would think of Donald Trump, a president with no love for Muslims or the Middle East, and whose budget just cut all funding for the National Endowment of the Arts. It isn’t hard to imagine him walking into the Oval Office, taking his painting off the wall and storming out with it.








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Then again, since it's the American flag, he might not even notice the artist. Hassam had a very fluid way of depicting scenes. From your blog title, I half expected one of Sheldon Cooper's Fun With Flag series.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on March 17, 2017
I have always been very enamored with the Impressionists- thanks for another art history lesson!
By: Kathe W. on March 17, 2017
Fortunately none of Trump's followers know or care at all about art. Maybe we could auction off all those White House paintings to pay for NEA?
By: PT Dilloway on March 17, 2017
Lovely paintings and an interesting story. But since Trump doesn't read, he may never realize his name or his fondness for the Middle East.
By: Sage on March 17, 2017
I'd like to take the painting and storm out with it. It's beautiful! Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on March 17, 2017
I was half ways expecting Sheldon also. Hope no one in Trump's staff reads your blog. Pretty sure he is clueless right now.
By: Arkansas Patti on March 17, 2017
Beautiful art work and a great story, too. Twitter will be on fire once Donnie T finds out about those pictures. Have a good weekend, Stephen.
By: Mr. Shife on March 17, 2017
Fascinating. I've seen the painting but never knew the history or back story. Thanks for another instructional and enlightening post.
By: Tom Cochrun on March 17, 2017
Fabulous paintings, and i hope that one in the Oval Office stays right where it is!
By: messymimi on March 17, 2017
Interesting...and I hope that Donald Trump doesn't find out. Who knows what he might do.
By: Pixel Peeper on March 17, 2017
When Mr.Hassam was alive and painting, the muslims weren't terrorizing people all over the world, taking over countries and making Sweden the "rape capitol" of the world. Yes, times have changed. I know whether President Trump will include his painting which is wonderful, but don't think Hassam would worship Islam as it is today.
By: Kate on March 17, 2017
Wish there was a way to edit here as my comment posted before I was done. I meant to write I don't know whether President Trump will include his painting.......
By: Kate on March 17, 2017
I really like his impressionistic style -- except for the flags. They don't seem to go. They don't feel as impressionistic, They're too linear and realistic. Well, what do I know? Opinions are like assholes...
By: Lexa Cain on March 17, 2017
BTW, Kate's comments are offensive. People shouldn't judge over 1.6 billion Muslims when they don't even know one personally.
By: Lexa Cain on March 17, 2017
Not really my cup of tea style wise, but a very interesting story about the artist. Have a great weekend!
By: LL Cool Joe on March 18, 2017
An amazing body of work. My mother had a bunch of his paintings clipped from magazines. She loved him. As for He Who Shall Not Be Named, once someone reads your blog post to him, he'll indignantly move the painting from the Oval Office to one of his own homes ... and he'll then sell it.
By: Mitchell is Moving on March 18, 2017
Great paintings (& a great art lesson)!!
By: fishducky on March 18, 2017
I'm surprised he hasn't replaced it with a huge painting of himself.
By: Catalyst on March 18, 2017
I'm sure the painting's secret is safe ... as long as no-one on Fox News picks up on the story :)
By: Botanist on March 18, 2017
I have to thank you for this history lesson. I didn't know anything about the guy despite the fact that I love impressionism. I had never seen his work but now I will be looking out for it a bit more. Thanks. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on March 18, 2017
Since I was attacked by Lexa for only telling what has been going on around the world, may I say to her that she just made a judgement about me and she doesn't even know me. Islam is not compatible with a free nation, however, as we have seen many times on the news. Sorry, Lexa, if I offended your tender feelings. Just keep your eyes open and be alert. You will find out I am right.
By: Kate on March 18, 2017
I'm taking issue with both of you (Kate and Lexa). It's disturbing to witness two adults turn this site and post into a battle ground because you have differing beliefs / opinions. I have a suggestion, exchange with one another your contact information and continue your discussion by way of email. You owe an apology to Stephen.
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 18, 2017
I like the paintings- and have never heard of the artist or known that his paintings hung in the oval office. Thanks for sharing.
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on March 19, 2017
I knew the name but not the paintings. The ones you show absolutely brought NYC to life for me, even though they were painted so long ago. I want to see more of his work.
By: Jenny Woolf on March 20, 2017
Fascinating post...
By: The Broad on March 20, 2017
Avenue in the Rain has always been one of my favorites. While Hassam showed support for Muslims, I cannot find where he was actually a practicing Muslim. He is not included in the famous American Muslim list of folks. I don't care if he is or not, he definitely supported Muslims and would probably be nauseated by Mr. Trump's treatement of Muslims and the Arts.
By: Bradley K Collard on May 5, 2017

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