“The Sonata” by Childe Hassam

The Sonata by Childe Hassam

Photo: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Where:  The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.  

Exhausted, a young woman collapses into herself after performing Beethoven’s famously difficult and lengthy “Sonata Appassionata.” A delicate yellow rose lies atop the piano, its heady blossom also too heavy to support.

“This was a really important piece to Hassam,” says Stephanie Knappe, assistant curator of American Art for the Nelson.  “He was really attached to it, and it probably served as the model for the thirty other domestic interiors he painted with young women as subjects.”

Attached he was.  He withheld “The Sonata” when he otherwise sold virtually his entire collection, finally letting go 26 years after he painted it.  It eventually found its way into the hands of Washington D.C. collector and tastemaker Duncan Phillips of Phillips Collection fame, but a feud between the two prompted Hassam to reacquire it, anonymously, seven years later in 1928.

Hassam painted “The Sonata” in his New York studio in 1893 at a time when “art for art’s sake” was finding its way into the lexicon of art students, galleries and collectors alike.

“It celebrates beauty and calm,” says Knappe. “It imparts no moral lesson for us to follow and shows us how important the idea of beauty is to our lives.”

See here for more information on the Nelson-Atkins Museum.


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