Friday, October 2, 2009

William Merritt Chase

images courtesy America's largest online museum
I am pasting the images into this post in no particular order, and not chronologically, so they are not a record of his development as a painter.

William Merritt Chase 1849-1916 is a particularly important figure in American painting. I intend to spend several days on him. I have had the bizarre experience of knowing one and quite possibly two of his students. One was Theresa Bernstein, of Gloucester. I say I knew her, I helped carry she and her wheelchair into the Rockport Art Association and I have heard her speak. I guess I should say I have met......The other was my neighbor when I was living in the Fenway studios during the Ives Gammell period, Edith Scott, a Victorian Boston painter who lived until 1978. I actually spent a few hours chatting with her, although each time she met me I was new to her. She preferred to think I was the mailman. Chase died in 1916 so both of these women were of advanced age, Theresa Bernstein lived until 2002 and was thought to be almost a hundred and twelve when she died.

I have always been interested in links to the old painters I admire, few are left now that can speak of knowing them, but one can still seek out the places they knew, and of course their art.

Chase was the son of a successful shoe store owner in Indianapolis, Indiana.Though he was obviously a talented young artist he was sent to the Naval Academy at Annapolis where he lasted only three months. He moved to New York and studied with a portrait painter, Joseph Eaton and at the National Academy of Design. When his fathers business failed he learned he could support himself with his still life paintings.

Chase decided to continue his studies in Europe, and went to Germany to join the atelier of Karl von Piloty. There he became close friends with both Duveneck and Twachtman. In 1876 he sent this painting to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition where it was highly acclaimed.

If you look back at the Duvenecks you can see the similarity Chase had to his friends work. The deep rich color and visible brushwork reminiscent of Frans Hals are common to the both at this point. They are aesthetes and not merely realists reproducing a believable chunk of the world. After a several month long visit to Venice with Twachtman, Chase returned to New York.
His exhibiting of works prior to arrival had secured him some reputation and he used it to great advantage, He was a great showman and self promoter.He began a life time of influential teaching at the newly formed Art Students League. He also was able to secure a studio that had been specially enlarged for Albert Bierstadt at the Tenth Street studios. I wrote about this building before in my descriptions of the Hudson River School here.

Here is a picture of the studio. He made many paintings of it and decorated it with his collections of antiques and exotic objects that he collected. It was intended to impress the wealthy clients he entertained there. His studio became then and still is an influence on the design and decoration of many later American artist's studios , including mine.
I will return tomorrow and continue the story of William Merritt Chase.


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this. I love William Merritt Chase, he was one of the founders of the Art Students League of New York. The wonderful painting of his studio, with all of his "bric-a-brac" that he was forced to sell, can be seen in the Brooklyn Museum.

Unknown said...

oh my.. that first portrait is just.. stunning. I am overwhelmed. wow. The use of edges and the drawing/values...
Interesting, did he always sign on the top left of a canvas?

Any luck on the Perley Oak? Maybe tomorrow it will not rain.

ps. ordered some LeFranc and Bourgouis Titanium white today.

Unknown said...


The De Young Museum has a wonderful Chase studio painting. I stared at it..gawked....for a long time

Philip Koch said...

Chase can be really excellent with paint handling and some of his compositional ideasl.

That painting of the guy dressed up in the red outfit though gives me the willies. If I have nightmares tonight it will be your fault Stapleton.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The Brooklyn Museum has a great collection,that is particularly strong on 19th century lumininst painting.Very great museum.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't know that he made a practice of it, I wonder why he did it thwere?

I have been doing thumbnails in the studio based on the two sketches from location of the Perley Oak. I will be going back again soon although I am not sure what day. There is still no autumn color around it, at least not 3 days ago..

Let me know what you think of the LeFranc white.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I wish I could see that museum again. Is there a museum of art in Sacramento?

Stapleton Kearns said...


Chase was so great, wait till we get to Shinnecock!

That picture of the guy in red made him famous.It is called "keying up, the court jester" I am beginning to look like him.

P.S. at least you sleep

Unknown said...

Yes...Its the Crocker and its pretty mediocre by comparison to the De Young, Legion of Honor and the Haggin in Stockton.

Very good obscure German Genre paintings. I'll post some at some point.

Philip Koch said...

I hadn't realized Chase helped found the Art Students League of New York. So I guess I owe him a debt of gratitude- I had some powerful good experiences there in my first perceptual studio classes in '68 & '69. Also even at the time ( I was all of 19 & 20) I sensed the place had an amazing history.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Are the Dusseldorf school? I like that stuff!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Tonight I will write about another place he taught that will interest you.