The Banner Years

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On November 15, 1918, four days after the armistice, New York’s Durand-Ruel Galleries, one of the major dealers in impressionist art, held an exhibition of Hassam’s flag paintings. They numbered twenty-three, though he painted one more in 1919. In 1922 at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington nineteen of the paintings were shown, and at that time several critics expressed the hope that the series would be kept together and exhibited as a memorial of the Great War. But nothing was done, and by the time of Hassam’s death in 1935 almost half of the Hag paintings had been sold and scattered. He bequeathed the remaining fourteen —along with a large collection of his other work—to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, with the stipulation that they be sold and the income used to buy the works of young American and Canadian artists for presentation to museums in the United States and Canada. Since that time the academy has disposed of all but two of the flag paintings.

In the fall of 1968, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the armistice, the Bernard Danenberg Galleries of New York exhibited eleven of the Hag paintings. There once again could be seen these colorful reminders of a time when Hag burnings were unthinkable, an era when the French ambassador to Russia, Maurice Paléologue. watching the Union Jack hoisted up beside the French Tricolor and the Russian imperial standard after the British had joined the war against Germany, could write in his diary: “… the (lags of the three nations blend eloquently. (Composed of the same colors, blue, white and red. they arc a picturesque and striking expression of the coalition.” Fortunately, when the time came, Old Glory blended beautifully into the color scheme. It was indeed a war of banners.