The Bold and The Beautiful -William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849 - 1916)  is an iconic figure in late 19th and early 20th century painting. His colors and brushwork are unapologetically bold and I love it.  I am pairing this blog with a Red Velvet cocktail. It is one part raspberry ale and one part sparkling wine. I am so glad I discovered this lovely drink! I am already on my second  so away we go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chase was born in Indiana and showed an interest in art from a young age. He joined the navy and was encouraged to go to NYC to further his art training. He did just that in 1869 ... he moved to St. Louis shortly after due to a funding issue and became active in the local art scene. He got a sweet gig in 1870 ---  going to Europe to buy art for the wealthier residents of St. Louis. A girl can dream of having this  job, right? He stayed in Europe until 1878.1

 

So like many  American painters of the time (Eakins  for example) Chase was lucky enough to see the impressionist movement unfold In Europe. The influence of impressionism is evident in his thick, spontaneous brushwork. His cropping is also similar to the impressionist works of Edouard Manet (French, 1832-1883). Chase's subject matter and darker color schemes are also most like Manet than other impressionists.  

 

 

Portrait of Miss Frances, William Merritt Chase, 1905, oil on canvas

Courtesy of wikicommons

 

 

 

 

 Meditation, William Merritt Chase, 1885, oil on canvas

Courtesy of wikicommons

 

 

 

 

 

 The Street Singer, Edouard Manet, 1862, oil on canvas 

courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts Boston 

 

 

Chase's technique and color choices really shine in his portraits though. Chase uses sweeping, prominent brushstrokes to create his lovely works. He is able to render unbelievable  texture out of paint.  I am lucky enough to live near The Grand Rapids Art Museum that has this gorgeous portrait by Chase: 

 

Lady In Opera Coat, William Merritt Chase, 1893, oil on cavas

Courtesy of wikicommons

 

 

The red, velvety background is lush and makes you want to touch it (of course I would never). The smooth silk of the gown and gloves of the sitter is a lovely contrast to the velvety background. Chase creates these sumptuous textures all with his brushwork and color choices. 

 

Chase's portraits are even more dynamic when he adds cropping to the mix. If you notice in the three images by Chase the feet are cropped out. The absence of feet draws your eye out of the frame and creates a curve to the image.

 

In addition to doing his own work Chase also taught painting when he returned to NYC in 1878. You may have heard of his students Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper?2 Sometimes his students were even the subjects of his portraits. 

 

Lydia Field Emmet, William Merritt Chase, 1892, oil on canvas

Courtesy of wikicommons 

 

This portrait really showcases Chase's bold brushwork and mastery of contrast. The dark palette he uses for the background makes a striking pairing with Lydia's fair skin, white lace and pink silk of the ribbon on her dress. In this work Chase doesn't use cropping to draw the viewer's eye. He uses the long pink ribbon to both divide the image and create movement from the top and out of the bottom of the portrait.

 

In all of these paintings Chase's use of contrary elements really work as a cohesive whole. Chase also creates textures that are simply stunning. I hope you have enjoyed looking at the works of William Merritt Chase and will take a few moments to look closely at his work if  you find yourself in front of one.

 

Cheers! 

 

1) http://www.william-merritt-chase.org/biography.html

2) http://www.npr.org/2016/06/28/483231216/meet-william-merritt-chase-the-man-who-taught-americas-masters

 

 

 

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