Thursday, November 01, 2012

Happy Birthday, William Merritt Chase!

William Merritt Chase in 1900
Born in 1849 in Nineveh, Ind., Chase was an exponent of Impressionism and is best known for establishing the Chase School, today Parsons The New School for Design. In 1861, Chase’s father moved the family to Indianapolis and employed William as a salesman in his local business. Chase exhibited an interest in art early and studied under such local, self-taught artists as Jacob Cox, a landscape and portrait painter who is known for his paintings of several Indiana governors.
Chase joined the navy for a brief period before his teachers encouraged him to travel to New York to further his artistic training in 1869. He enrolled in the National Academy of Design and studied under Lemuel Wilmarth, who was a student of French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, considered one of the most important painters in the Academic style. Chase was forced to leave a year later for St. Louis, Mo., to rejoin his family due to financial trouble. While he worked to help support them, he ingrained himself in the St. Louis art community, winning prizes for paintings at local exhibitions. In 1871, Chase exhibited his first painting at the National Academy, which elicited the interest of wealthy St. Louis collectors who ultimately acted as his benefactors, arranging for him to visit Europe for two years in exchange for his paintings and help securing European art for their own collections.
Chase traveled around Europe, first settling in Munich at the Academy of Fine Arts in Germany, then made his way to Venice. He returned to the United States in the summer of 1878, where he subsequently exhibited his new paintings with the newly created Society of American Artists. He also opened a studio in New York and became a member of the Tilers, a group of artists and authors including Winslow Homer and John Twachtman.
In 1886, Chase, now a cosmopolitan and esteemed art teacher, married Alice Gerson, one of his favorite models, and she continued to be his primary model throughout the 30 years of their marriage. They raised eight children, and their eldest daughters, Alice and Dorothy, often modeled for their father as well. During this period, Chase cultivated the lifestyle of a devoted family man, but he became known for his extravagant spending as well, filling his studio with lavish furniture and oriental carpets. By 1895, the cost of maintaining the studio as well as his other residences forced Chase to close it and auction its contents.
In addition to his on-and-off teaching jobs, Chase, on the advice of a patron, opened the Shinnecock Hills Summer School on eastern Long Island, N.Y., in 1891 and taught there until 1902, during which time he adopted the plein-air method of painting and held the majority of his classes outside. In 1896 Chase created his educational magnum opus, the Chase School of Art, which became the New York School of Art two years later. Chase stayed on as a teacher until 1907. Along with Robert Henri, Chase became the most important teacher of 20th century artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and George Pearse Ennis. 

Chase’s creativity declined in his later years during the onset of modern art, but he kept painting and teaching into the 1910s. He died on Oct. 25, 1916, in New York, and his works carry on his legacy as an esteemed elder of the American art world. His paintings hang in most major U.S. museums, and the Georgia Museum of Art happens to have in its permanent collection one of his paintings of Shinnecock Hills, the location of his home and primary studio, which were added to the National Register of Historic Places. If you would like to have a look at the place that inspired a true visionary, feel free to come on in! 

William Merritt Chase
Shinnecock Hills, ca. 1892

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