Lillie (Lillie Langtry)
watercolor and gouache on paperboard
24 1/4 x 19 3/4 in. (61.7 x 50.2 cm)
Frederick Childe Hassam (1859–1935), a pioneer of American Impressionism and perhaps its most devoted, prolific, and successful practitioner, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts (now part of Boston), into a family descended from settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Equally adept at capturing the excitement of modern cities and the charms of country retreats, Hassam (properly pronounced HASS-am) became the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century. In our day, he is perhaps best known for his depictions of flag-draped Fifth Avenue during World War I.
His finest works manifest his brilliant handling of color and light and reflect his credo (stated in 1892) that “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.”
After establishing his reputation in Boston between 1882 and 1886, Hassam studied from 1886 to 1889 in Paris. There he was unusual among his American contemporaries in his attraction to French Impressionism, which was just beginning to find favor with American collectors. Hassam returned to the United States late in 1889 and took up lifelong residence in New York.
Hassam created more than 2,000 oils, watercolors, pastels, and illustrations, and—after 1912—more than 400 etchings and other prints.
A Jersey Lily, Portrait of Lillie Langtry, 1878, oil on canvas, Jersey Museum and Art Gallery, St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands
The subject of his painting, Lillie Langtry (1853-1929), a Jersey girl, acclaimed beauty, socialite, and the mistress of the Prince of Wales.
At the time of the painting, Lillie was an actress plus survivor of several scandals, in the midst of one of her numerous tours across the United States. Among her admirers then was Texan Roy Bean, self-proclaimed judge and reputedly the only “Law West of the Pecos;” she would eventually make the long journey to visit Langtry, the frontier town he christened in her honor.