William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase

Who was William Merritt Chase?

William Merritt Chase was an American artist who trained some of the leading American painters of the 20th century, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur B. Davies, Cecilia Beaux and Edward Hopper. He is considered as one of the founders of the "American School" of art. Chase spent a formative five-year period in Paris, studying with Léon Bonnat and other prominent French artists. He returned to New York in 1875 and opened a studio with another painter. In 1877 he became a member of the Society of American Artists, in which he exhibited regularly until 1899 when he joined the National Academy of Design.

Early Life of William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase was born November 1, 1849, in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. He was the fifth of the eight children of Joseph Clover Chase and his wife, Charlotte Sophia Chase. His father was a shoe manufacturer with a passion for art who encouraged Chase to draw at an early age.
In 1856, the Chase family moved to Syracuse, New York, where his father had established a shoe factory after a disastrous fire destroyed his business in Williamburg. Chase's father became a partner in a tannery in nearby Solvay and also began dabbling in the patent medicine business. Chase studied at the Mechanics Institute in Syracuse, where he had access to a well-stocked library. In 1866, he enrolled at the newly opened Syracuse High School but left after one year to work for his father's growing business. He continued his art training at home with local artists and at the school of design run by the firm of Crouse & Browne. The following year, Chase abandoned his interest in medicine for art. Chase enrolled at the National Academy of Design in New York City, where he studied under Lemuel Wilmarth (1827-1908), one of America's foremost painters of landscape and marine subjects. After Wilmarth died unexpectedly three years later, Chase changed instructors frequently before settling with Kenyon Cox (1859-1919) in 1876.

Early career of William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase was an American painter who taught a group of artists known as the Chase School, a popular art school. He started out as a conventional Hudson River School landscape painter, but gradually evolved to Impressionism, often finishing his paintings with a dark veil of mist. The change in style can be linked to his meeting with the French artist Edgar Degas, who he got to know personally and by whose paintings he was influenced during a period when he lived in Paris from 1877 onward.
William Merritt Chase was an American painter who taught a group of artists known as the Chase School, a popular art school. He started out as a conventional Hudson River School landscape painter, but gradually evolved to Impressionism, often finishing his paintings with a dark veil of mist. The change in style can be linked to his meeting with the French artist Edgar Degas, who he got to know personally and by whose paintings he was influenced during a period when he lived in Paris from 1877 onward. In the late 1880s, with his marriage over and no longer needing to please patrons, he began to depict women from all levels of society. Painted in the first two decades of the 20th century, these late works are at times sensual, flaunting their sexuality with rich colors and facile paint handling. Chase was one of the first American artists to visit France, where he discovered Impressionism and was particularly impressed by Edgar Degas' use of pastels. He also made many painting trips through the American South and West, as well as to Venice. He became one of the first American artists to paint modern life, at the beginning of the 20th century. It has been suggested that John Singer Sargent influenced Chase more than any other artist.

The Style of William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase is regarded as the founder of one of the most popular painting styles during the late 19th and 20th centuries: The American Impressionism. What made him so influence on American art was his original approach to landscape, mannerist portrait and genre painting.
Chase worked in almost all genres, but was best known for paintings of urban landscapes. He is considered to be the originator of Tonalism and American Impressionism. He has countless students who were inspired by his work. Artists like Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell, Max Weber and Childe Hassam were pupils of Chase. His influence on other artists is undeniable. William Merritt Chase was born on March 1, 1849 in Williamsburg, New York to William Chandler Chase and Eliza Merritt Chase. He was the eldest of eight children. His father, William Chandler Chase was a sign painter and engraver from a family with a strong background in art. In fact, one of William's brothers became successful as an architect in Washington DC. William grew up surrounded by art and nature, with views of the Catskill Mountains from his home in Williamsburg. At age twelve he started attending a local art school run by a man named Lemuel Wilmarth. While there he began painting with watercolors and sketching the surrounding landscape.

The Master Techniques of  William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase atelier was one of the most prolific artist studios in New York City’s Greenwich Village. During its heyday, his studio attracted countless aspiring young artists who had their own aspirations of becoming “the next Chase.” Although there were commonalities among Chase’s assistants, years later they would forge completely different careers which would be in stark contrast to the impressionist, tonalist paintings of their mentor. This resulted in a diverse body of work with varying approaches to technique and subject matter.
In the late 1880s, Chase began to attract a large number of students who hoped to be the “next Chase,” but it was not until the early 1890s that his reputation began to spread beyond New York. This was due to his inclusion in a group exhibition at the National Academy of Design in 1892 and a favorable review by critic Clarence Cook. The following year, a full-page illustration of his portrait, A Japanese Boy (1893), appeared in Harper’s Weekly. As the popularity of his work grew, Chase began to produce more paintings that were not commissioned by clients or from his own imagination. In 1894, Chase accepted an offer from Frederick MacMonnies to paint murals for the Library of Congress. Although he pursued other mural commissions during this period, it was never something he considered as a life-long career. He ultimately turned down an offer from the Metropolitan Museum in favor of teaching and painting in Paris in 1897 and 1898. While in France, he met and painted with many important artists including Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir.

Chase's Mysterious Death

William Merritt Chase’s mysterious death in 1908 was one of the most sensational scandals of New York City’s Gilded Age.  Whether you saw his “An Artist As He Is Perceived by a Publisher,” or just know him as the model for the Easter Bunny in an Ernest Nister illustration, Chase had a profound impact on modern art and was known for his technical virtuosity, precise draftsmanship and bold compositions. On May 15, 1908, Chase died on his way to visit his friend Richard Watson Gilder, editor of Century Magazine . When he arrived at the Gilder home, Chase collapsed and died on their front steps. Chase’s autopsy report states that he died of uremia , or kidney failure caused by chronic alcoholism. The report also noted that one of Chase’s kidneys had been removed due to an infection years earlier. But rumors quickly spread that Chase had been poisoned by his wife so she could collect on a $10,000 life insurance policy they’d taken out together just weeks before his death.

The Legacy of William Merritt Chase

The legacy of William Merritt Chase has long extended beyond the boundary of the canvas. His paintings have been perceived as both a distillation of machine-age values and an affirmation of traditional values, the very young have been enchanted by their exuberant colors, and art critics have struggled to pin down his monumental style for generations. In recent years, however, a closer consideration of Chase’s life and work has uncovered a story that is considerably more complex than any one commentator or catalogue raisonne could have foretold. Briefly, Chase’s story begins in the late nineteenth century, when the artistic world found itself besieged by a bevy of new technologies. The popularization of photography and film, the spread of industrialization and urbanization, and the advent of new kinds of mass media all precipitated an intense period of introspection within the artistic community. As artists around the world wrestled with these changes, Chase found himself poised at a delicate juncture between art history and cultural history, a position that would prove crucial to his later development as a painter.

Oil painting reproduction William Merritt Chase

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