William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) was one of the leading artists of America at the end of the 19th century as well as a distinguished teacher.

Born in Franklin, Ind., on Nov. 1, 1849, William Merritt Chase received his first art instruction in Indianapolis under B. F. Hays. He then attended the National Academy of Design in New York City, after which he studied in St. Louis, where his family had moved. Through friends impressed by his ability, he went abroad in 1872 and spent 5 years at the academy in Munich. American painters Frank Duveneck and John H. Twachtman were fellow students. Chase took a trip to Spain, where he copied the work of Velázquez, then spent several months in Venice with Duveneck.

In 1878 the Art Students League in New York City invited Chase to become a painting instructor. Knowledge of his European success had preceded him, and his class was an immediate success. He then founded his own school and continued for years as the most prominent art teacher in America.

Chase had his winter studio in New York City and held a summer school on Long Island. He was a prolific painter, active in the field of portraiture and landscape, as well as making a great success of fish still lifes. He soon gave up the muddy brown tonalities of the Munich school and adopted the silvery gray tones of Velázquez, gradually adopting lighter tones applied with much the same bravura as John Singer Sargent. Chase's portrait of Miss Dora Wheeler shows penetrating character analysis as well as facile handling of the exotic setting. A Friendly Call, showing Mrs. Chase receiving a beautifully gowned visitor, is perhaps his most brilliantly conceived composition of figures in an interior.

Chase was very elegant in appearance and had a great deal of dash and style. His New York studio was a favorite gathering place for prominent artists and other notable people. On one occasion in 1890 Sargent was permitted to exhibit his portrait of the great Spanish dancer Carmencita, in the hope of making a sale to one of the notables who had gathered to view the painting and witness a private performance of her dancing. Chase asked Carmencita to pose for him, but she refused when he did not give her expensive presents such as those lavishly bestowed by Sargent. The portrait had to be finished from photographs. During visits to London, Chase became a close friend of James McNeill Whistler and painted a distinguished full-length portrait of the expatriate artist.

Over the years Chase probably had more students than any other painting teacher of his day. His influence was far-reaching, and he was responsible for establishing dashing, freely brushed canvases reminiscent of both Édouard Manet and Sargent as the accepted style of painting.


Further Reading on William Merritt Chase

Katherine Metcalf Roof, Life and Art of William Merritt Chase (1917), is a useful, if uncritical, biography written by a student and friend of the artist. More recent exhibition catalogs that provide some biographical data in addition to representative illustrations of his work are Art Association of Indianapolis, Chase Centennial Exhibition (1949); William Merritt Chase: A Retrospective Exhibition (1957), a catalog of an exhibition held at the Parish Art Museum, Southampton, N.Y.; and University of California, Santa Barbara, The Art Gallery, William Merritt Chase (1964). Edgar P. Richardson in Painting in America (1956) briefly discusses Chase's importance as a teacher.


Additional Biography Sources

Bryant, Keith L., William Merritt Chase, a genteel bohemian, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991.

Pisano, Ronald G., A leading spirit in American art: William Merritt Chase, 1849-1916, Seattle: Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, 1983.

Pisano, Ronald G., William Merritt Chase, New York: Watson-Guptill, 1979.

Roof, Katharine Metcalf, The life and art of William Merritt Chase, New York: Hacker Art Books, 1975.