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William Merritt Chase

I don't believe in making pencil sketches and then painting landscape in your studio. You must be right under the sky.
William Merritt Chase

Chase nursery
The Nursery, 1890

William Merritt Chase was born on November 1, 1849 in Williamsburg (now Nineveh), Indiana. Chase was a member of Ten American Painters which included Child Hassam and Joseph DeCamp, among others. Having studied both in America and Europe, he was a multifaceted Impressionist artist working in several kinds of media and subject matter, and was also well-known as an instructor where he opened his own school in 1896, the Chase School of Art. That school exists today as Parsons The New School for Design. Chase's work is characterized by deep saturated color—even when he uses a more monotone palette there is always a sense of depth and richness to those values.

In The Nursery above, he contrasts complementary colors red and green under a soft, diffused afternoon light with a very warm-toned earth the figures are walking on. This unusual one-point perspective of the red building is dynamic and he slows this down with wooden flower beds to the right leading our eyes up to the trees. The contrast of figures is interesting also, both dressed elegantly in white but with the background figure leaning over to examine flowers while the foreground figure sits lazily to the left, flowers in hand, staring out at nowhere in particular. Chase sets a tone for the painting that is peaceful and calm, and the blue sky in the distant background is soothing. Chase uses texture and color in a way that is tactile, and yet it serves to define the subjects. Look at the yellowish-brown tones in the woman's dress in the foreground, and how it becomes cooler in hue as it reaches her arms.

William Merritt Chase - The Tenth Street Studio
The Tenth Street Studio, 1880

I love the dark corners of this room. Chase uses his characteristic red to emphasize the floor and wall, along with the woman and her dog—note how that blue chair seems odd by itself but blends seamlessly with the rest of the palette in this painting. The light is coming from the right side, and we can see that the right corner behind the artist is completely dark and empty, and as the light carries across the room details of paintings and suggestions of wealth are displayed. Chase seems to suggest that an artist's creativity begins in the mind, or right-hemisphere, and its manifestations are only the result of artistic work and inspiration. Chase also has a way of making us feel at home, no matter what he paints.

Back of a Male Figure, watercolor 1885

Brooklyn Museum - At the Window - William Merritt Chase - overall
At the Window, pastel ca.1889

William Merritt Chase - Studio Interior - Google Art Project
Studio Interior, ca.1882

Here is a different view of his studio, and this time the light is coming from above. Chase uses blue as his accent color here, and although there are more sharper details of various objects the overall tone is quiet and empty. The woman sits browsing through a large book of drawings, perhaps waiting for the artist as if in a waiting room. Chase clearly held the studio in high regard and felt privileged to be in such a space occupied by artists such as Winslow Homer, Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt. Chase painted here for 16 years.

William Merritt Chase - Summer at Shinnecock Hills - Google Art Project
Summer at Shinnecock Hills, 1891

Look at how Chase scumbles muted greens atop of yellow in this tall grassy field. Those patches of green foliage are so thick you almost want to reach out and touch them. I love how that mysterious woman appears off-center to the left, as if wading through this fantastically painted sea of vegetation. The hazy blue sky above is calm. There is no real subject or focal point here, and yet it pulls you in. It is hypnotic because of its poetry, its sheer presence. Imagine having this hanging in your home, and everytime you look at it you feel as though you are outside on this sunny afternoon in this tiny hamlet of Shinnecock Hills in New York, far away from the noisy city life. Shinnecock Hills continued to fascinate Chase and he painted several scenes of this amazing place.

William Merritt Chase - In the Park
In the Park, ca.1889

A tender painting that never reaches sentimentality, Chase captures a moment in time of a young girl wandering off alone with her mother seated on a bench in the background. The brushwork of green hues on that massive stone wall defies words. And the path is painted in a subtle range of greys from cool to warm, lightly scattered with leaves on the edges. Note how Chase uses dark green in the background foliage atop of a small building, while the foreground is a lighter tone of green grass, with a sliver of sunshine raking across it. This was a world without any kind of portable technology, a world of quiet, and yet Chase reminds us that human nature does not change. The best landscapes are not those that impress, but invite, and understand the world.

William Merritt Chase - A Modern Magdalen - Google Art Project
Modern Magdalen, ca.1888

This timid pose of a beautiful woman with soft milky skin is hypnotic also. Look at the ornate fabric he poses her on, a satiny green with flower motif and an Asian pillow. Chase seems to be commenting on the Victorian Era that was already waning in the time this was painted. Flowers were used as a sort of coded language also during these times. Chase juxtaposes this with the biblical reference of Mary Magdalen, who is often depicted with long flowing hair, a reference to "sinning" women while here Chase has her hair tightly pulled up to show the back of her neck. Chase implies here the nonsensical prudery of his time and how it disempowers instead of raising the esteem of society.

Mrs. William Merritt Chase, c.1890

One of several portraits by the artist, Chase's wife is painted here in thick brushstrokes with a thoughtful expression on her face. Simple, understated and beautiful, this is how Chase wanted to remember her as.

Chase William Merritt James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1885
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1885

I love this portrait of Whistler. It eloquently displays his personality, a man who often sparked controversy and was friends with everyone it seemed, including the likes of Monet, Degas, Sargent, Oscar Wilde and, of course, William Chase. It is hard to imagine that someone of this size an ego would paint scenes of incredible mood and darkness, inspiring an art movement called tonalism. It is no coincidence that Chase paints him against a vivid orange background imprimatura, as if to suggest the impossibility of containing Whistler inside of anything.

Self Portrait William Merritt Chase
Self-portrait, ca.1915

A very informal and brushy self-portrait, one of many he painted during his lifetime. Chase reveals a little of his technique also in the canvas behind him blocked in with grey sweeping brushstrokes and what appears to be the beginnings of a tree. Chase has one of those faces that would make a magnificent sculpture.

Summertime, ca.1886

This is a beautiful and serene landscape. The water with its glistening reflections is painted in a way that dazzles the eye. There is an incredible amount of colors in that silvery water. And the woman in the boat seems like an afterthought, it actually keeps our eye back to the water. This is magic with a brush. This is the eye of William Merritt Chase.


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