Published: March 25, 2016
NEW YORK CITY — Dr Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, announced that Chairman Emeritus Richard Gilder has donated to New-York Historical a monumental flag painting by the American Impressionist painter Childe Hassam, one of the last of the renowned series of Hassam flag canvases still in private hands.
“The Fourth of July, 1916 (The Greatest Display of the American Flag Ever Seen in New York, Climax of the Preparedness Parade in May)” depicts Fifth Avenue bedecked with dozens of American flags in celebration of Independence Day exactly 100 years ago, when New Yorkers rallied with patriotic fervor to support the “Preparedness Movement” in anticipation of the nation’s inevitable entry into the Great War in Europe. The bravura canvas, more than 3 feet by 2 feet in size, is only the second in Hassam’s Flag series of approximately 30 works and was initially inspired by a parade that took place in May 1916. The “Fourth of July, 1916” will go on view at the New-York Historical Society later this year in a new first-floor gallery to be named for Gilder and his wife Lois Chiles.
“Twelve years ago, on the eve of New-York Historical’s bicentennial, Richard Gilder boldly envisioned our institution as New York’s great destination for American history,” said Dr Mirrer. “Under his chairmanship, the institution began working tirelessly to achieve this ambitious goal. This marvelous ‘flag’ painting by Childe Hassam, the artist’s most prized and celebrated work and a particular favorite of the donor, at once celebrates our achievements in carrying out Mr Gilder’s vision and reaffirms his unparalleled, and ongoing, role in our success.”
“It is both a pleasure and an honor to donate this masterpiece to a museum that continues to aspire to the traditions the painting so powerfully conveys: the confluence of New York history and American history,” said Gilder. “It is time to make this picture available to the public so that visitors to the New-York Historical Society will enjoy the painting as much as my wife, Lois, and I have.”
The full title of the painting conflates the annual celebration of the country’s independence with the sentiment of nationalistic fervor created by the preparedness movement. The presence of skyscrapers and a double-decker bus place the scene on Fifth Avenue; the exact location is left unknown, however, perhaps implying that the entire boulevard had been transformed into a glorious display of pageantry.
When the painting was first displayed at the Montross Gallery in New York, the art critic of the Christian Science Monitor declared himself awed by its “sea of stars and stripes floating to the breeze from the skyscrapers on either side of the great American thoroughfare,” almost giddily describing the picture as “the climax that fairly shouts hurrah for Old Glory!”
The painting, which was formerly in the collection of Frank Sinatra, was lent by Gilder to the 2004 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Childe Hassam: American Impressionist.” In the catalog for that show, curator of American Art H. Barbara Weinberg noted that most of Hassam’s large-scale flag paintings boasted “dynamic compositions, none more so than the second work in the series, ‘The Fourth of July, 1916’.”
In spring 2017, the museum will host a traveling exhibition, “World War I and American Art,” which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the US entry into the Great War.
The New-York Historical Society is at 170 Central Park West. For information, www.nyhistory.org or 212-873-3400.
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