Producing over 2,000 paintings and founding several art schools in his lifetime, painter William Merritt Chase was considered the preeminent art instructor at the turn of the 20th century.
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William Merritt Chase was born on November 1, 1849 to Sarah Swaim and David Hester Chase in Williamsburg, IN. At a young age, Chase took informal drawing lessons from his grammar school teacher. In 1861, his family moved to the burgeoning city of Indianapolis where Chase became a student of self-taught painters Barton S. Hays and Jacob Cox.
Upon the advice of Hays and Cox, the twenty-year-old Chase moved to New York to become a student of portrait painter Joseph Oriel Eaton. After a brief period of study with Eaton, Chase enrolled at the National Academy of Design (NAD) and studied under Lemuel Wilmarth, who was once a student of the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Seeking to help his family out of financial problems, Chase entered the professional sphere and left New York for his family’s new residence in St. Louis. Once in St. Louis, he became well-known for his commissioned portraits and still lifes. In 1871, three of his paintings including Still Life with Fruit were exhibited at the National Academy of Design. Local businessmen soon took notice and funded a trip to Europe for the promising young artist.
After spending a brief period in London and Paris, Chase traveled to the Bavarian capital of Munich where he enrolled at the Royal Academy in 1872. During his time at the Royal Academy, he established lifelong friendships with the American artists Walter Shirlaw and Frank Duveneck. Together, these artists dominated the American circle in Munich.
In America, Chase’s art was also meeting success with the exhibition of “Keying Up”- The Court Jester, which won a medal at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 and later received critical acclaim at the National Academy of Design exhibition of 1878.
After his studies, Chase traveled to Venice with Duveneck and the artist John Twachtman. In 1878, Chase accepted a teaching position at the Art Students League in New York. This was the first of many instructing efforts that Chase would pursue in his lifetime. He would go on to teach at the Brooklyn Art Association and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In the summer of 1891, he opened his own Shinnecock School of Art, which offered a summer program for artists. However, Chase’s most influential endeavor was his opening of the Chase School of Art in Manhattan, which would later become the parent institution of Parsons the New School for Design. In his years as an instructor, Chase trained generations of painters and is credited as one of the most important art teachers in America at the end of the 19th century. He is rivaled only by fellow American artist Robert Henri.
Though his dedication as a teacher was time consuming, the flamboyant Chase never lacked the time to frequent the circles of New York society. Through introductions made by the painter Frederick Church, Chase met Alice Gerson, who would later become his wife and mother of their eight children. Though seventeen years his junior, Alice was a devoted wife who understood Chase’s visionary role in the art world.
When his good friend and fellow painter John Twachtman died in 1902, Chase became a member of “The Ten American Painters,” which cemented his role in American art history. His bohemian studio in the famed Tenth Street Building became the hub of the New York art world. Decorated with exotic and lavish objects, his studio reflected both his character and painterly style.
During the later years of his life, Chase’s interests in teaching took precedence over his own career as an artist. He often made trips to Europe with his students, and above all, he encouraged them to strive for “Truth, quality, and interesting treatment” in their art. He died on October 25, 1916 in New York.
II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK
In 1909, a critic for The International Art Studio commented on the style of Chase’s art: “The national style, so far as there can be any American style, is a composite, blending indistinguishably the influence of old and new schools of painting. In a certain sense, Mr. Chase is a typical American artist… moreover; he is sane, unsentimental, truthful and unpretentious. All these are typical American qualities so far as our painters are concerned.”
Far from “typical,” Chase’s art is bold, eclectic and even poignant. His most famed landscapes of New York capture the nervousness and vibrancy of the city, yet they are crisply rendered and are referred to as “little jewels.” Chase is also known for his expressive, truthful portraits. These paintings suggest the decadence of the fin de siècle period of which they belong. In Chase’s time, John Singer Sargent was the only other American artist to surpass him in the genre.
Unlike Sargent’s own European beginnings, Chase’s early career as an artist began in Indianapolis, MN where he painted a handful of portraits. As art historian Ronald G. Pisano argues, Chase’s early paintings are average, with no apparent evidence of remarkable talent. After briefly studying at the National Academy of Design and a stint in the portraiture business, Chase left to study in Europe. It is at this moment in Chase’s life that his artistic genius was awakened.
The Royal Academy in Munich was a fashionable alternative to the Parisian art world and attracted many young American artists, including Chase. The Munich School is known for its predominant use of dark colors and sober tonality. Moreover, the availability of works by the Old Masters in Munich such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, and Rembrandt van Rijn provided sufficient study for the young artist.
Consequently, Chase’s body of work from this period reflects the varied aesthetic currents that were circulating in Munich at the time. His painting of 1877, titled Ready for the Ride is a representative painting from this period. A full-length portrait of a woman in her riding clothes, rendered in lush tones, references the works of earlier Masters, such as Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals. At the inaugural exhibition of the Society of American Artists in 1878, this painting helped to establish Chase as an important American artist.
In the years following Chase’s return to the States, American artists were emulating the fashionable currents of European art and in turn, producing little work that was original. However, ten American painters led by Childe Hassam were eager to revolutionize American art. Together, these artists firmly believed in the idea of creating a new National art, yet they each aimed to produce works that were reflective of the “new style” of European art.
Even before Chase was invited to join “The Ten,” his painterly style was shifting towards Impressionism. A master handler of light, Chase’s still lifes and portraits of this period are elegant and spirited. His later paintings reveal Whistlerian influences and generally contain a more limited palette than his early works. The influence of Impressionism can also be seen in his landscapes of this period, which are brighter in palette. The lighter colors used in these landscapes can most likely be credited to his adoption of painting en plein air during the later years of his career.
Chase stayed true to Impressionism for the remainder of his career and life. He did not take well to early modernism of the 20th century and was disappointed in the new trends on display at the Armory Show in 1913.
Although Chase never accepted modernism, he did, in fact, influence the advancements of American art beyond the Armory Show. During his years as an instructor, Chase’s students included Georgia O’Keefe, Rockwell Kent, Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Joseph Stella, among others. Moreover, Chase’s art school, the Chase School of Art (now known as Parsons The New School for Design) in New York is ranked as one of the top art schools in the nation and continues to educate aspiring artists to this day.
1849 Born in Williamsburg, IN to Sarah Swaim and David Hester Chase
1861 Moves to Indiana with family and takes drawing lessons
1867 Enters art training under painter Barton S. Hays and briefly enrolls in the U.S. Navy apprentice program
1869 Moves to New York and enrolls at National Academy of Design (NAD)
1870 Receives first still-life and portrait commissions
1871 Exhibits three works at the annual exhibition of the NAD
1872 Enrolls at the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany and travels to Paris and London
1875 Chase’s The Dowager is exhibited at the annual exhibition of the NAD
1877 Travels to Venice
1878 Accepts teaching position at Art Students League, New York
1879 Elected to the Society of American Artists (SAA) and takes space in the Tenth Street Studio Building
1880 Becomes president of the SAA and travels up the Hudson River and Northern Canal to Lake Champlain
1882 Forms the Society of Painters in Pastel with artists Ronald Blum
1885 Re-elected president of the Society of American Artists and has first solo-exhibition at the Boston Art Club
1886 Marries model Alice Gerson
1887 Chase’s first daughter, Alice Dieudonnée, is born and his second daughter, Koto Robertine, is born a year later
1889 Chase’s first son, William Merritt Jr., is born
1890 Elected full membership at the National Academy of Design
1891 Shinnecock summer art school opens with Chase as director and teacher
1896 Opens The Chase School of Art in New York
1898 Assumes the position of head instructor at The Chase School of Art which then becomes the New York School of Art
1900 Visits Paris
1902 Travels to London and artist John Singer Sargent paints his portrait
1903-7 Teaches abroad in Europe
1908 Elected member of the Academy of Arts and Letters in New York and resumes teaching at the Art Students League
1913 Attends the Armory Show in New York
1915 Travels to California to help plan an exhibition of his work
1916 Dies in New York City after failing health
Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, MO
Amon Carter Museum, TX
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York City
Butler Institute of American Art, OH
Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VI
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Columbia Museum of Art, SC
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA
Grand Rapids Museum of Art, MI
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Hood Museum of Art, NH
Joslyn Art Museum, NE
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
Montclair Art Museum, NJ
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, RI
National Academy of Design, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
Philbrook Museum of Art, OK
Phoenix Art Museum, AZ
Princeton University Art Museum, NJ
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
1885, 1886, 1887 Boston Art Club, MA
1887 Moore’s Auction Galleries, NY
1897 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1910 National Arts Club, New York, NY
1917 Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
1949 Herron Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
1957 Parrish Art Museum, NY
1964 University of California Santa Barbara Art Gallery, CA
1969 Chapellier Galleries, NY
1976 M. Knoedler and Co., Inc., NY
1982 Akron Art Institute, OH
1983 Henry Art Gallery, Washington University, Seattle, WA
1987 National Gallery Art, Washington, D.C.
2000 Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY
1871-1888 National Academy of Design, NY
1887, 1890-1892 Society of American Artists, NY
1887 American Art Association, NY
1887 Eden Musée, NY
1888, 1889 Society of American Artists, NY
1888 American Watercolor Society, NY
1888, 1889 American Art Galleries, NY
1888, 1890 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1889 Society of Painters in Pastel, NY
1889 Exposition Universelle, Paris, France
1889 Chicago Interstate Industrial Exhibition, IL
1890 American Art Gallery, NY
1890 Union League Club, NY
1891 Ortgies and Co., NY
1893 World Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL
American Academy of Arts and Letters
American Water Color Club
National Academy of Design
National Arts Club
National Institute of Arts and Letters
Society of American Artists
1876 Medal, Philadelphia Centennial Exposition
1889 Silver Medal, Paris World Fair Exposition
1894 First Prize, Cleveland Art Association
1895 Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
1900 Gold Medal, Paris World Fair Exposition
1901 Gold Medal, Pan-American Exposition
1902 Gold Medal, Charleston Exposition
1904 First Corcoran Prize, Society of Washington Artists
1910 Grand Prize, International Fine Art Exposition, Chili
1912 Proctor Prize, National Academy of Design
- 1. Bryant Jr., Keith L. William Merritt Chase: A Genteel Bohemian. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1991.
- 2. Chase Centennial Exhibition, Commemorating the Birth of William Merritt Chase. Indianapolis, IN: Herron Museum of Art, 1949.
- 3. Gallati, Barbara Dayer. William Merritt Chase. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
- 4. Gallati, Barbara Dayer. William Merritt Chase: Modern American Landscapes. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.
- 5. Pierce, Patricia Jobe. The Ten. Concord, NH: Rumford Press,1976.
- 6. Pisano, Ronald G. Summer Afternoons: Landscape Paintings of William Chase Merritt. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993.
- 7. Pisano, Ronald G. William Merritt Chase. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1979.
- 8. Roof, Katherine Metcalf. The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1917.
- 9. William Merritt Chase. New York: Chapellier Galleries, 1969.
- 10. William Merritt Chase. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California Art Gallery, 1964.
- 11. William Merritt Chase: A Retrospective Exhibition. Southampton, NY: Parrish Art Museum, 1957.
IX. WORKS FOR SALE BY THIS ARTIST