This is the second in the series of biographical articles to commemorate the centenary of the death of the American Master painter William Merritt Chase (1849–1916). This instalment covers the period from 1884 to 1890, during which he worked in and from his Tenth Street Studio in New York City.
By 1884, Chase was well-established as a portrait painter, with an international reputation which extended to Germany, Britain, and France. He saw himself as a modern version of the Old Master, and had a particular affinity with Frans Hals and Anthony van Dyck, as well as a great love for the work of Rembrandt and Velázquez. His Tenth Street Studio was becoming much more than just a place of work: it was where he met people, entertained them, and promoted his work.
In the summer of 1884, he travelled in Britain, Spain, and the Netherlands, where he painted views of the coast of Zandvoort in particular. One of his paintings was included in the first exhibition of the Belgian avant garde group Les Vingt (Les XX) in Brussels. Two of his paintings – including his Portrait of Dora Wheeler – were included in the exhibition of the Society of American Artists, of which he was President. The following year, he was re-elected as its President, in continuation until 1895.
The next summer (1885), Chase visited London and the Netherlands again. When in London, he and Whistler painted one another’s portraits.
With his busy studio, there was little time for him to get out into the country and paint rural landscapes. Although those he painted within New York City show signs of the urban setting, he does not appear to have painted any true cityscapes. His favourite locations were the large city parks, particularly Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
In January 1886, he married Alice Gerson, whom he had known since she was thirteen, and later that year used her as a model for a series of paintings in which she posed in Spanish dress and roles. (Some sources claim that they married in 1887, the year of the birth of their first child.) At first, the couple lived with his parents in Brooklyn, but soon moved out to settle in Greenwich Village.
At the end of 1886, the Boston Art Club hosted his first solo show, at which 133 of his works were listed.
In 1887, Chase started to teach at the Brooklyn Art School; Moore’s Gallery in New York auctioned almost a hundred of his paintings.
Alice Dieudonnée Chase (1887-1971), the Chase’s first child, was born in 1887, and acquired the nickname of Cosy.
Hide and Seek (1888) is one of a small number of his works which formally explore form and depth. The surroundings are here shown very flat, with the chair face-on, resulting in a strictly geometric division of the picture plane, which is almost rectilinear. The sense of depth is imparted by the figures: the two girls, who both face away from the viewer and into the painting, echo one another and provide all the visual cues which transform the flatness of the surroundings into overall depth.
He was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1888.
In 1889, he attended the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where one of his portraits won a silver medal. The Chase’s second child, Koto Robertine Chase (1889-1956), was born.
The following year (1890), he was elected a full academician of the National Academy of Design, and the Chase’s third child, William Merritt Chase, Junior, was born (he died the following year).
Both Chase and John Singer Sargent were determined to paint portraits of the celebrated touring Spanish dancer, Carmen Dauset Moreno (1868-1910), better known as Carmencita, who was starring in New York City in 1890. Sargent suggested that they paint her together in Chase’s Tenth Street Studio, and on 1 April, Carmencita danced in private for Chase, Sargent, and the latter’s patron, Isabella Stewart Gardner.
William Merritt Chase: a life in painting, 1, to 1883
In William Merritt Chase’s Studio: insights and informal portraits
Dancer: John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, and James Carroll Beckwith
City Life: 1 Eakins and Chase
Prizes, performance and still life
Hirshler EE (2016) William Merritt Chase, Museum of Fine Arts Boston. ISBN 978 0 87846 839 3.
Longwell AG (2014) William Merritt Chase, A Life in Art, Parrish Art Museum and D Giles. ISBN 978 1 907804 43 4.
Smithgall E et al. (2016) William Merritt Chase, A Modern Master, The Phillips Collection and Yale UP. ISBN 978 0 300 20626 5.