Painted in the heyday of the artists’ colony at Cos Cob, a section of Greenwich, Connecticut, Hassam’s picture typifies his blend of the domestic and the exotic both in subject and in style. The painting shows the front porch of the Holley House, a Cos Cob boardinghouse that became the focal point of this artistic community during the summer months. The house stands close to the Mianus River near Long Island Sound, seen here beyond the tree and another house. Into this comfortable, homey setting a note of elegance is introduced by the young woman’s kimono, a reminder of the great interest in Oriental art and motifs among Western artists in the second half of the 19th century. Despite her elegant costume, the woman is a serene, introspective figure.
Hassam’s style, too, has a mixture of the native and the foreign. French Impressionist influence is clear in the effect of flickering light, which the painter achieved in part by using a coarsely woven canvas with a putty-colored primer. When he brushed the principal colors over it, the canvas remained uncovered in the tiny cavities of the uneven surface, and these light areas give the sensation of reflected light. The principal colors of blue and green are less saturated and pure, more tonal than one would expect in a French painting. Such tonality was usual in American painting and Hassam’s limited palette reflects that tradition.
From 1890 until World War I, Cos Cob was a vital influence in American art, not only as a source of definably American topographical subjects, but as a meeting place for like-minded artists, whose antipathy for the pompous and academic in art was equaled by their sympathy for the modest and homegrown. With this attitude, Hassam and his friends formed The Ten, to bring their “American Impressionism” (a term Hassam himself disliked) to the attention of collectors and museums more effectively. Despite their aims and their activism, they were not radical artists but idealists, whose easy interaction with one another “and their unselfconscious rapport with the villagers represented a community seldom achieved outside Utopian literature.”1Susan G. Larkin, “The Cos Cob Clapboard School,” in Connecticut and American Impressionism, exh. Cat. (Storrs, Conn.: William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, 1980), 97. Listening to the Orchard Oriole is no. 114, illus. 107.
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.