In Charles River and Beacon Hill Hassam employed the radical compositional effects that he had seen in French painting to portray changing aspects of Boston. Like Gustave Caillebotte and other French Impressionists, Hassam used dramatically plunging recession and a broad expanse of empty foreground to draw the viewer into his cityscape, which includes three of Boston’s important topographical features. On the left is the Charles River, which divides the city from Cambridge; in the center is Beacon Hill, settled in the eighteenth century and the site of the gold-domed Massachusetts State House; and on the right is the Back Bay, a fashionable residential area that had recently been created after a forty-year landfill project. As Hassam was no doubt aware, there had been much discussion in Boston as to how to take best advantage of the Charles River. Hassam showed the dirt road and narrow walkway along the embankment, and he drew attention to the river via the boat landing and the blue-coated man at the railing smoking his pipe. Shortly thereafter, the scene was altered when a 100-foot-wide (30.5-meter-wide) concrete promenade was constructed beyond the sea wall. Here Hassam captured the city of his youth as it was transforming itself into a sophisticated urban center.
This text was adapted from Janet L. Comey’s entry in Impressionism Abroad: Boston and French Painting, by Erica E. Hirshler et al., exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005).