Arts Everyday Living: Honoring Memorial Day—Flag Paintings of an American Impressionist


In honor of Memorial Day, we are featuring one of Childe Hassam’s flag paintings.


Childe Hassam, Allies Day, May, 1917, 1917, oil on canvas, Gift of  Ethelyn McKinney in memory of her brother Glenn Ford McKinney, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Title: Allies Day, May, 1917

Artist: American Master Childe Hassam (1859-1935)


WAR & PEACE: On April 6, 1917, just over a 106 years ago, the United States officially declared war on Germany. In ALLIES DAY, MAY, 1917, painted soon after in New York City, Childe Hassam commemorated the country’s entry with this patriotic arrangement of the flags of the United States, France, and Great Britain, part of a 22 nation alliance. By the end of World War I, Hassam would create some 30 works of art, inspired by the continuous display of these colorful symbols of international unity: from Brazil to Belgium to Australia, flying along the grand spaces of Fifth Avenue and nearby streets.

However, Hassam’s “flag series” would not be exhibited until shortly after Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, when the victors hoped that “the war to end all wars” would bring enduring peace to mankind.

AN IMPRESSIONIST IN NEW YORK: After living in Paris for three years, Childe Hassam, often referred to as one of the most famous of American Impressionists, moved to New York in 1889.  There he depicted the rapidly growing city particularly its parks and theaters including Washington Square, Broadway and 42nd Street, Madison Square Garden, and Union Square.

These scenes were done mainly during winter and spring in which the artist captured a range of weather conditions, including blinding blizzards that obscured even the tallest structures in New York City. While in the summer and autumn, he returned to his home region of New England, whether the bucolic art colony of Old Lyme in Connecticut or the rocky terrain of  the Isle of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire.

RED, WHITE, AND BLUE: ALLIES DAY, MAY, 1917 is dominated by Hassam’s harmonious use of red, white and blue in each national banner: from the basic tricolor blocks of France to the more complicated design of Great Britain to the striking combination of  stripes and stars of the U.S.  

The vantage point too adds to the power of the painting, elevating viewers to the heights of New York’s multi-storied buildings. Did Hassam paint this masterpiece from a hotel room, allowing us a close-up perspective of  the trio of flags in the foreground? Yet, also taking our eye upward and down the avenue, as well as below where Hassam employs typical impressionistic technique to portray the crowds of a metropolis already numbering 6 million people.

A WHITE HOUSE FAVORITE:  After being gifted to the National Gallery of Art by Ethelyn McKinney in memory of her brother Glenn Ford McKinney in 1943, ALLIES DAY was loaned to the White House twice as well as the Blair House, the guest residence across Pennsylvania Avenue.

However, in recent years, another work in the “the flag series,” THE AVENUE IN THE RAIN, has been a popular with the White House. Donated by T.M. Evans in 1963, it has hung  in President Kennedy’s bedroom, next the presidential dining room, and now since the Clinton administration, holds a prominent position in the Oval Office, just across from the president’s desk.

GOOGLING HASSAM: Would you like to browse more of Hassam’s views, including some of  “the flag series?”

Avenue in the Rain, 1917, White House Historical Association

Avenue of the Allies, 1918, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Washington Arch, Spring, c. 1893, Phillips Collection

Cab Stand at Night, 1891, Smith College Museum of Art

Snowstorm, c. 1890, Baltimore Museum of Art



In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.







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