Childe Hassam (American, 18591935)
Oil on canvas; 21 1/2 x 18 1/8 in. (54.6 x 46 cm)
Gift of Mrs. J. Augustus Barnard, 1979 (1979.490.9)
In the three summers from 1887 through 1889, when Hassam was studying art in Paris, he and his wife visited Villiers-le-Bel, about ten miles northeast of the capital in the Oise valley near Écouen. Their hosts were Ernest Blumenthal, a cosmopolitan and successful German businessman resident in Paris, and his wife, who had become Mrs. Hassam's closest friend in the city. The garden scenes Hassam painted at the Blumenthals' country retreat anticipate his later garden images painted on the Isles of Shoals, including Celia Thaxter's Garden, Isles of Shoals, Maine of 1890 (1994.567). Just as Hassam recorded few topographical views of Paris, he painted few simple landscapes in the French countryside. An exquisite exception is Peach BlossomsVilliers-le-Bel, which shows an overgrown peach tree in an orchard on the Blumenthals' estate. Here Hassam celebrated the beauty of cultivated nature now gone wild, playing off the bent Y-shaped trunk against the tangled veil of blooming branches that surmount it. The unruly peach tree is delectably dynamic, especially in contrast to the controlled nature that preoccupied Hassam at Villiers-le-Bel.