If you want to know what a road looked like to travelers before the advent of blacktop and concrete made the modern freeways and highways possible, turn to art. The above painting by Frederick Childe Hassam, shows what a good road looked like. It goes across the land, cut into the earth by the travelers who use it. Along the better roads, such as this one, ditches were dug to enable drainage.
No bridge crosses the small creek–travelers must cross the water on foot or in the wagon. In winter it becomes a mushy, muddy track, and in summer it’s sun baked and hard. In spring, the grass grows green, making it a pleasant place.
A Back Road (1884) was painted in his early years, while Hassam was still influenced by the works of William Morris Hunt, who like the great French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, emphasized the Barbizon tradition of working directly from nature.
From Wikipedia: In 1885, a noted critic, in part responding to Hassam’s early oil painting A Back Road (1884), stated that “the Boston taste for landscape painting, founded on this sound French school, is the one vital, positive, productive, and distinctive tendency among our artists today…the truth is poetry enough for these radicals of the new school. It is a healthy, manly muscular kind of art.”
I like the composition of this piece, the way the land is larger than the sky. The grass feels damp and the clouds herald more spring rain–this painting has life.
In his later years, Hassam moved away from realism and became known as one of the best of the American impressionists.
Credits and Attributions:
A Back Road, Childe Hassam 1884 [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wikipedia contributors, “Childe Hassam,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Childe_Hassam&oldid=831999910 (accessed April 6, 2018).