Posts Tagged ‘Woodrow Wilson’

Childe Hassam-The Forth of July, 1916

Today, June 14th, is Flag Day, a semi-holiday without a lot of fanfar ethese days that came about in 1916 when Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it as a day to celebrate the day of the origin of our flag in 1777 as we, as a country, were on the brink of entering the war in Europe.  The flag has always been a strong iconic image in art, used by a number of artists to make a statement of sorts.  Perhaps the best known of these are the flag paintings of Jasper Johns, one of which has sold at auction for over 28 million dollars.

However, when I think of paintings of flags I always think of the work of Childe Hassam.  He started this series of paintings in 1916 as the buildup to our entry in World War I was reaching a crescendo.  In many cities around the country there were Preparedness Parades that displayed  the general population’s escalating enthusiasm for entering the fray.  The most famous of these was in San Francisco where, at one such parade in July of that year,  a bomb was exploded by radicals of the time that killed 10 bystanders and injured many more.  However, Hassam was in NYC and the displays on the avenues of multitudes of flags among the canyons of the growing city inspired him to produce a number of powerful paintings, not bombs.

I think these paintings say a lot about America, especially at that time.  The cityscape shows an expansion of urban growth brought on by the influx of an immigrant population and a prospering, industrialized economy.  The flags represent a unifying bond that ties together all these diverse groups, a simple symbol that speaks easily to the wants and desires of the population.  Their dream of America.  Perhaps it also covered up many of the injustices and inequalities rampant then.  And now.

But I tend to think of it in the better light, as a call to our better nature and to a society of choice and opportunity.  An image of possibility and hope.   And Hassam’s paintings do that for me in a beautiful, graceful manner.  The flag in its best light…

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