She was portrayed with her face in profile as she studied her hands, which were covered by the folds of the skirt of her white Victorian styled gown. I wondered if she might have had a quarrel with her lover. Above her head, to the right, was a golden mellow rose that made me think this even more. It created in me a mood of sadness, making me recall my own experiences with lost love. As I became more affected by the painting, I wanted to know more about its creator!
While studying the life of Hassam, I learned that the piece is considered one of his best works of art and that he had chosen as an alternate title to the piece, Beethoven's "Appassionato" sonata. (2) It appeared to me that, like Beethoven, he must have had feelings of great passion to be able to create the mood of The Sonata. For me, the subtleness of that passion was further emphasized by Hassam's use of a blend of colors to create a golden gilded hue. The painting is highlighted by this color blend in the colors of the rose, the woman's hair, and in other spots throughout the painting. In contrast to this is the pure whiteness of the Victorian styled gown that the woman wears.
Hassam also called attention to the subtle meaning of the painting with the use of indirect line. Using and almost S-shape to emphasis the focal point of the painting-the woman, he draws the eyes of the beholder of the painting, from the rose into the woman's face and down to her hands.
The artist was from New England and learned the techniques of the impressionists while studying in Paris. While he, later, became more involved in modernistic landscapes and patriotic scenes of America, the influence of the impressionists never escaped his work.
The painting is considered one of Hassams's best works. Like the first artists of impressionism, Hassam has captured natural light and luminosity in the painting with the use of numberless short choppy strokes of paint. Unlike Claude Monet, the father of impressionism, and his early followers, Hassam's Sonata is too academic to be defined strictly as an impressionist work. Instead, the artist has defined his subject and the meaning of the painting as delicately as did the Flemish painters with their strict adherence to detail. The great exception to their rules would be the flatness of The Sonata as compared to the depth to be found in their paintings.
A painting such as the Sonata draws one into an imaginary space, while a sculpture calls its viewer to experience it physically. The atmospheric perspective techniques used to create depth in a paintings or not available to sculptures. In paintings, something is added, with sculptures, something is subtracted. Sculptures are devoid of the softness that many paintings possess. While requiring the same talents and skills as that of painters to effect greatness in their creations, sculptures are limited in their abilities to tease our imagination. The use of colors and values is also less, because of this, paintings are more complex. The Sonata is a good example of this, like the Mona Lisa, she invites us, not only to wonder, but also to participate in her mystery.
Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935), 1893, oil on canvas, 32 x 32, Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph S. Atha, Collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum.
The Nelson Gallery Foundation, d.b.a. The Nelson-Atkins M