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 William Merritt Chase  (1849 - 1916)

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Lived/Active: New York/California/Indiana      Known for: plein-air landscape, interior scenes and genre painting, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A native Midwesterner, William Merritt Chase became one of the more revered figures in American art because of his painting abilities and skills at conveying them to other artists. Described as the "single most important teacher of his generation, perhaps in all of American art education" (Gerdts 135), he was not committed to any one style of painting and basically considered himself a realist. He utilized elements of various styles including Tonalism, Impressionism, and Realism, and his willingness to grow and change with an evolving art world, he aligned himself with progressive groups including the Society of American Artists in New York.

William Chase was very much a dedicated plein-air painter, described by art historian Prudence Pfeiffer as the most influential American artist working at the end of the 19th century who painted "en plein aire". Chase said: "I don't believe in making pencil sketches and then painting your landscape in your studio. You must be right under the sky." (Pfeiffer)

Chase was born in Franklin, Indiana to Sarah Swaim and David Hester Chase, and in 1861, the family moved to Indianapolis where he took private lessons from a local teacher, Benjamin Hayes. He then studied art at the National Academy in New York with Lemuel Wilmarth and privately with Joseph Oriel Eaton. He also spent a brief time in St. Louis, Missouri where his teacher was Munich-trained John Mulvaney.

Observing his talent, four St. Louis men sponsored a trip for Chase to Munich to learn the then popular bravura style of painting at the Royal Academy. He was there from 1872 to 1878, and distinguished himself with honors and was even offered a position at the Academy, which he declined.  His good friends were Frank Duveneck and John Twachtman, a threesome that traveled and painted together in Venice.

Chase returned to New York where he had a teaching position at the Art Students League from 1878 to 1894.  He set up his studio at 51 West 10th Street, known as the Tenth Street Studio Building, a place that became a model for artists' studio designs of the time--strong north light, ornate, luxurious, and crowded.

A description of that studio is provided by Hammer Galleries:  "The 10th Street Studio building housed numerous artists’ studio spaces. William Merritt Chase’s studio, which he inhabited from 1878 to 1895, was especially well known its extensive collection of antique and exotic objects.  Indeed, Chase modeled his studio’s grand scale and lavish decoration after the great European masters, such as Peter Paul Rubens.  He used it as a marketing tool for the benefit of his business as a painter, attracting clients first to the studio and then to his skills as an artist.

Chase’s studio attracted considerable attention for its unique and extensive collection of objects.  As early as 1879, an article by John Moran in The Art Journal featured a description of the many wonders contained in Chase’s studio.  These included, among other things: paintings, musical instruments, Venetian guns, swords, pistols, bugles, Renaissance period furniture, a bronze bust of Voltaire and a large collection of photographs of Old Master paintings.  Over time, Chase also formed a significant collection of contemporary American and European paintings which he acquired mostly from artists’ studios, dealers and auctions.  This collection, along with his copies after Old Masters, proved to be a source of inspiration for Chase and his students and colleagues.

Indeed, Chase’s lavish and treasure filled space left a significant impression on those who saw it. Visitors to the studio related how they were most impressed by the overall harmony of effects, which amazingly managed to come across despite the eclectic mix of decorative elements and paintings. The artist carefully orchestrated and arranged his studio to create a total aesthetic effect. "

In 1881, he returned to Europe where he spent time with Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent in Paris and went to Spain to copy works at the Prado of Velasquez whom he greatly admired and whose influence was lastingly apparent in much of his painting.

Chase married in 1886, and the couple lived in Brooklyn near Prospect Park, which became a popular subject for his painting and lent itself to his increasing interest in Impressionism. It was "a bit of nature that Chase could record vividly and fleetingly--an urbanized nature with sparkling figures". . .(Gerdts 134). He also did much painting of life in Central Park, using plein-air methods. Although he incorporated Impressionism into much of his work, as stated above, he regarded himself as independent without total commitment to any formula.

Chase conducted many summer workshops throughout the East Coast and in Europe, with the best known being his school at Shinnecock, an area of beaches and dunes on the eastern end of Long Island. He and his family spent their summers there in a home designed by the architects McKim, Meade and White, and in addition to giving classes in oil and pastel painting, he completed numerous plein-air landscapes of the area. The popular school lasted for twelve seasons beginning 1891, and during this time he reflected his increasing admiration of French Impressionist/Post Impressionist painter Edouard Manet. This influence led to his abandoning dark tonal influences of the Munich School for more colorful plein-air painting and to the increasing use of pastel, which allowed more spontaneity and ease when working outdoors.

Chase also painted on the West Coast in Carmel, Monterey, and San Francisco, California. He made his first trip in 1914 and taught summer classes at Carmel. The next year he returned, this time to San Francisco where he was on the Jury of Awards for art entries in the Panama-Pacific Exposition.

William Merritt Chase died in 1916. That year in a speech at an arts dinner in Washington DC, he said: "Life is very short . . . but I would like to live four times, and if I could, I would set out to do no other things that I am seeking now to do." (Pfeiffer/Pisano).

Sources:
William Gerdts, American Impressionism
Prudence Pfeiffer, 'William Merritt Chase Under the Sky', Plein-Air Magazine, July 2005. pp. 38-43
Ronald Pisano, Summer Afternoons: Landscape Paintings of William Merritt Chase
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Hammer Galleries, New York, (Studio Description)


This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following was written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California:


In 1887 Chase married Alice Gerson  on February 8, one day before the birth of their first child, a daughter.  Who delayed the marriage for so long is not known; Chase was the ideal of a conservative gentleman-artist and this violation of a major Victorian taboo was striking. They lived at first with Chase's family in a small house in Brooklyn and then moved to their own apartment in Manhattan. Alice gave birth to eight children in steady succession, providing Chase with a ready source of models.

In the summer of 1891 Chase was hired to head the Shinnecock School of Art, where he taught students to work by a method so radical and innovative it virtually redefined American art: plein air painting. Cottages were built to house the many students who flocked in from around the country. Each day he announced the outdoor location for his students,  emphasizing the need for courage in seeing the world openly.  "It usually takes two to paint" he said, "One to paint and the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it." In 1896 he established the Chase School of Art, and later took pupils to Europe to study and copy the masters.

Chase was a glittering personality with a pointed gray beard and a handlebar mustache.  He could could paint a life-size full length portrait in only three hours and he finished his most famous still-life pictures so rapidly that the fish used in them, borrowed from a nearby market, were returned still fresh. He was the first President of the Society of American Artists.  Like many of his American  compatriots, Chase thought his real education as a painter depended on European training.  After returning from the continent to New York in 1878, he became one of the most successful and sought-after artists.  His style is associated with a bravura painting technique and often with the lightened colors related to the Impressionists.  Known for his flamboyant manner, Chase greatly influenced American taste and the American art world of his day.

Sources include:
New York World's Fair 1940 Masterpieces of Art
Architectural Digest 
Art & Antiques, September 1997 
Art & Antiques, May 1991
Life or Look magazine, (date unknown)
From the internet, Webmuseum, Paris
Sunday in the Park by Bonnie Barrett Stretch in ARTnews, October 2000


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Franklin, IN on Nov. 1, 1849. At age 20 Chase went to New York where he studied in the studio of J. O. Eaton and later in Munich at the Royal Academy. Returning to NYC in 1878, he established the Chase School and taught at the ASL and NAD. His time spent in California was very limited. On his first trip to California in 1914 he taught summer classes in Carmel. The following year he was in San Francisco where he was a member of the Int'l Jury of Awards at the PPIE. He died in NYC on Oct. 25, 1916. Chase became one of America's most important teachers and painters and is today a giant in American art. Exh: SFAA, 1913-15; Newhouse Gallery (LA), 1927 (memorial). In: AIC; Brooklyn Museum; Cincinnati Museum; Oakland Museum; MM; NMAA; St Louis Museum; Cleveland Museum; Detroit Museum.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); History & Ideals of American Art (Neuhaus); Art News, 10-28-1916 (obituary); NY Times, 10-26-1916 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):
In the early 1880s William Merritt Chase began to paint the plein-air landscapes that would earn him recognition as one of America’s leading Impressionists. Brushed quickly with a bright palette, Chase’s landscapes bear the touch of spontaneity. Describing them as “veritable little jewels,” fellow painter Kenyon Cox said, “They are far and away the best things Mr. Chase has yet done. . . . They are perfection in their way and could not be improved upon.” Chase delighted in capturing the carefree visual appeal of familiar sites and leisure activities. He once declared, “If you want to know of good places to sketch in the vicinity of New York . . . I think I could easier tell you where they are not than where they are.” Chase also worked frequently with pastel—a medium then rapidly gaining vogue.

Chase was born in Williamsburg, Indiana, to Sarah Swaim and David Hester Chase. In 1861 the family moved to Indianapolis, where Chase received private drawing lessons from a local teacher. Chase studied briefly at the National Academy of Design in New York before enrolling, in 1872, in the Royal Academy in Munich, where he met Frank Duveneck and developed an appreciation for the painterly quality of seventeenth-century art. During this decade he painted still lifes, portraits, and figurative interiors with a palette dominated by rich browns, yellows and pearly grays inspired by the Old Master paintings he so admired. Chase returned to New York in 1878 in order to accept a teaching position at the Art Students League and quickly aligned himself with the most progressive arts organizations in the city.

On a return visit to Europe in 1881, Chase traveled first to Paris, where he met Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent. Both artists had visited Spain and had ample information to share with their less-traveled colleague. Chase departed for Spain alone on July 2, 1881, with the goal of viewing and copying paintings by Diego Velazquez. The following summer, traveling with a group of artists that included Robert Frederick Blum and Frederick Porter Vinton, he made a second trip to the Spanish peninsula. On that trip Chase painted sun-drenched views en plein air and studied the sparkling paintings and watercolors of Mariano Fortuny.

In 1884 Chase visited Holland with Blum and Charles Ulrich. The artists originally intended only a brief stay in the Netherlands before continuing on to Venice, but when cholera broke out in Germany, Blum and Chase settled in the Dutch village of Zandvoort. Chase continued to work en plein air, and his own brand of Impressionism—based upon cool, vibrant blues and greens—began to emerge.

Although many of his American contemporaries—including Cassatt, Sargent, Ulrich, Edwin Austin Abbey, Gari Melchers, and Daniel Ridgway Knight—chose to remain in Europe, pursuing lucrative careers painting European subjects for an international clientele, Chase decided to establish himself in New York City. He secured the largest and finest studio available in the venerable Tenth Street Studio Building and devoted himself to promoting American art and supporting American artists. Chase was a flamboyant, charismatic personality, and his studio attracted a fashionable crowd of artists and other society figures.

Chase taught at the Art Students League of New York (1878–1896), the Brooklyn Art Association (1887, and again 1891–96), and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia (1896–1909). He also founded the Shinnecock Summer School of Art (1891) at his summer home near Southampton, Long Island, and the Chase School of Art in New York City (1896). Chase’s influence on subsequent generations of American artists was significant—both on the East Coast and, later, in California, where he taught in 1914. Notable pupils included the brothers Gifford and Reynolds Beal, Patrick Henry Bruce, Arthur B. Carles, Daniel Garber, Charles Webster Hawthorne, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, and Martha Walter.

Today, Chase’s work is represented in public collections throughout the United States and around the world. Important collections include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Akron Art Museum, Ohio; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York; Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; Neue Pinakothek, Munich; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; and Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.

Biography from Heritage Auctions:
Although William Merritt Chase excelled as an Impressionist landscapist in his later career, he was consistently masterful as a figure painter, utilizing a particular palette and body configuration and accompanying accessories to complement a sitter's personality. Born in Indiana, Chase studied portraiture and figure painting at the National Academy of Design in New York before enrolling in 1872 in Munich's Royal Academy, whose program would bear a strong influence on his work for the next few decades. Here, access to Old Master paintings afforded Chase the opportunity to copy figural works by Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Rembrandt van Rijn, and an especial favorite, Diego Velázquez. In teaching the Dutch and Spanish Old Masters, the Munich School also introduced Chase to the concepts of realist painting, including a dark, earth-toned palette; dramatic tonal gradations; and everyday subjects.

After his stay in Munich, Chase settled in New York in 1878 and began his teaching career. He taught at the Art Students' League of New York and then at his own Chase School of Art, founded in 1896 (later known as the New York School of Art). He devoted much of his time and energy to teaching, not only at the League, but also at the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Shinnecock Summer School of Art. As a leader of the insurgent younger painters who challenged the authority of the National Academy of Design, he was a founding member of the Society of American Artists and, in 1880, was elected its president. As one writer noted, "His large, sumptuously decorated studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, which he took soon after his return to New York, was the most famous artist's studio in America and a virtual manifesto of his and his generation's artistic practices and beliefs, and of the dignity of the artist's calling."

The vigorous handling and fresh color characteristic of much of the best American painting of the early twentieth century owes a good deal to Chase's example. His pupils included Charles Demuth, Georgia O'Keefe, and Charles Sheeler. Chase was a highly prolific artist (his output of more than 2000 paintings included still lifes, portraits, interiors, and landscapes), and his work is represented in many American museums. The recipient of numerous awards for his many American exhibitions, Chase also was honored with a knighthood in the Order of Saint Michael by the prince regent of Bavaria in 1908.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916):

William Merritt Chase is one of the most famous of all 19th- century American painters, both as a painter coming out of the Munich or German tradition into modern impressionism and as an incredibly talented teacher who inspired hundreds of students at the Art Students League, his Tenth Street Studio, the Chase School of Art, the Brooklyn Art Association and during summers in Shinnecock, Long Island.

When Twachtman died in 1902, Chase was elected to take his place in the most prestigious group of American impressionists, The Ten American Painters, but by this time, Chase was a founding member of the Society of American Artists (1879), an Associate (1888) and a National Academician (1890) of the National Academy of Design, NYC, the Munich Secession, the National Arts Club, the Lotos Club, the American Water Color Club, Painters in Pastel (founder), National Institute of Arts & Letters, Portrait Painters of America and so forth. He won gold medals for painting excellence from most of the leading art institutions in the U.S. and Europe before he died in New York in 1916.

Chase is represented in many museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Terra Museum of American Art, National Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Rhode Island School of Design, Cincinnati Museum and many leading private and college collections. He is considered one of the most talented of the American impressionists.

P.J. Pierce

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, III:
William Merritt Chase was born in rural Williamsburg, Indiana, in 1849. He grew up with a thirst for travel and a passion for art. The Chase family later moved to Saint Louis, where the young painter gained support from local patrons for European study. He entered the Royal Academy in Munich in 1872.

Chase lived in Europe for almost seven years yet remained involved with the American art world. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1875 and was honored at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia the following year. In 1877 Chase won critical acclaim for Ready for the Ride, which was on view at the inaugural exhibition of the Society of American Artists, of which he later became president. Chase returned to New York in 1878 to teach at the Art Students League.

Chase was a founder of the American Society of Painters in Pastel and a principal force at the Shinnecock Summer School of Art on Long Island. Shinnecock is considered the first important summer art school in America, and Chase taught there until 1902. He also taught at the Brooklyn Art Association, at the Chase School of Art (later the New York School of Art), and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Among his students were Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley and Georgia O'Keeffe. Chase died in 1916 in New York.

Source:
http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/1aa/1aa435.htm

Biography from Owen Gallery:
William Merritt Chase was raised primarily in Indianapolis, the oldest of seven children. He studied painting in Munich for six years in the mid-1870s. Upon his return to the United States in 1878, he quickly established himself as one of the foremost Impressionist painters in New York. Originally known for portraiture and still-life work, he began gaining a reputation for landscape painting in the 1890s when he started spending his summers at Shinnecock on Long Island. From 1895 until his death in 1916, he resided in Stuyvesant Square, New York as well as at Shinnecock.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Born in Johnson County, Indiana, on November 1, 1849, William Merritt Chase studied art in nearby Indianapolis with B. F. Hayes, J. O. Eaton and A. Wagoner. (1)  In 1870, he continued his studies at the National Academy of Design in New York. Between 1872 and 1877, he traveled to Europe, where he studied at the Royal Academy in Munich and then visited Venice for nine months with artists Frank Duveneck and John Henry Twachtman.

Chase returned to live in New York in 1878.  He became a member of the National Academy of Design, the National Institute of Arts and Letters and was the founder of the Society of American Artists.  He exhibited in the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and at the Paris Salon in 1881, 1889, and 1900.  He also showed his work at the Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901; at the Charleston Exposition in 1902; at the Society of Washington Artists in 1904; at the National Academy of Design in 1912 and at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

Chase taught at the Art Students League from 1878-96, and from 1907-12.  He also taught privately from his 10th Street studio from 1878 to 1896, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Art in 1887 and from 1891 to 1895.  He taught classes at the Chase School of Art [re-named New York School of Art, in 1898] from 1896 to 1907 and continued teaching privately in Philadelphia until 1913.  He taught at the Shinnecock Summer School of Art between 1891and 1902, and then taught summer classes in Holland in 1903, in London in 1904, in Madrid in 1905, in Italy in 1907, 1910 and 1911, in Bruges in 1912 and in Venice in 1913.

He was a very popular teacher to a whole generation of students who later became well-known artists in their own right, including Kenneth Hayes Miller, Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, Charles Sheeler, Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper.

William Merritt Chase died on October 15, 1916. 

During the course of his study in Europe, Chase encountered the work of baroque artists Franz Hals and Diego Velázquez, and was inspired by their dark palette and painterly brushwork.  Their heavy impasto (brushy) style influenced the contemporary artists with whom Chase studied.  Unlike his contemporaries, Mary Cassatt and Childe Hassam, Chase became known as an American Impressionist who painted the American landscape.  He is perhaps best known for his impressionistic paintings of outdoor scenes on Long Island, New York.

In 1902, he was elected to become a member of “The Ten,” a loosely knit organization of artists who regularly exhibited together.  This group of artists came to be regarded as a kind of academy of American Impressionism.

Source:
(1). Publications by Ronald Pisano attest that artist's place of birth to be Williamsburg, Indiana (later renamed Ninevah).

Submitted by the staff, Columbus Museum-Georgia

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired):
William Merritt Chase was born in 1849 in Williamsburg, Indiana, the oldest child of a successful merchant. In 1861, the Chase family moved to the rapidly growing city of Indianapolis, where Chase received his first artistic training under a local painter, Barton S. Hays. On Hays’ advice, Chase went to New York for further training at the National Academy of Design.

In 1871, Chase moved to Saint Louis, where his family had relocated. There he established himself as a still-life painter, but had little success. His fortunes changed when he was befriended by two prominent local businessmen who financed his study at the Munich Royal Academy under Karl von Piloty. Piloty stressed a tenebrous, bravura style derived largely from the Dutch and Spanish masters of the seventeenth century. In Munich, Chase also joined forces with the "Duveneck Boys," a lively group of artists whose mentor was Frank Duveneck.

Chase’s reputation as a painter preceded his return to New York in 1878. A teaching position also awaited him, the first in a long career, at the newly established Art Students League. In l878, he acquired the former studio of Albert Bierstadt in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building, which had earlier been known for its contingent of Hudson River painters. Adorned with paintings, tapestries, objects of art and bric-a-brac that Chase collected voraciously, the studio became a gathering place for artists, students and patrons, and the showcase for Chase himself.

In the 1880s, Chase came to realize the limitations of the dark palette of Munich, as he became more and more interested in landscape painting and in the possibilities of pastels. He began to paint plein-air scenes such as "A Subtle Device" 1881 (Private Collection) in which he portrayed himself sketching directly outdoors.

Three trips to Europe followed---in 1881 and 1882 to Spain and France and in 1884 to Holland. In the mid-l880s, Chase applied what he had learned from his experiments in the use of color in Holland to the American landscape. In his simple atmospheric renditions of the Brooklyn countryside and of Prospect and Central Parks, he drew attention to the inherent beauty of his own country.

These scenes of leisurely life in restful settings are paralleled in mood by the domestic interiors that Chase began to create after his marriage to Alice Gerson in 1886 and the growth of his family in the years that followed.

In 1882, Chase helped found the Society of American Painters in Pastel and created an extraordinary body of work in this medium. From 189l to 1902, he conducted classes in the open-air at Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, and it was during this period that some of his most celebrated works were painted, such as "The Fairy Tale," 1892 (Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz) and "The Friendly Call," 1895 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

In these Impressionist paintings, Chase explored effects of light and atmosphere on the grassy dunes along the coast and celebrated the open spaces surrounding his summer home.

At the close of his Shinnecock School in 1902, Chase began organizing formal summer teaching trips abroad---to Madrid, Florence, Bruges, Venice, and Haarlem. Although he completed a number of landscapes during these European tours, his major effort in the twentieth century was devoted to the painting of still life and portraits.

In l903, Chase was elected a member of The Ten, the association of prominent New York and Boston Impressionists. Chase replaced John Henry Twachtman who had died the previous year. In the last decade of his career, Chase received high accolades for his art and was given one-man shows in nearly every important city in the country.

Chase’s students numbered in the thousands; among the better known were Gifford Beal, Guy Péne du Bois, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Alfred Maurer, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Sheeler.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


William Chase is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Impressionists Pre 1940
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Paris Pre 1900
"The Ten"



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