Who’s Who in William Merritt Chase’s “The Open Air Breakfast”

Chase_The Open Air Breakfast

William Merritt Chase, The Open Air Breakfast, c. 1888. Oil on canvas, 37 3/8 x 56 3/4 in. Toledo Museum of Art. Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her father, Maurice A. Scott

“If Mr. Chase had never painted any other picture, this one alone would place him on the highest plane of American painting. The exquisite mastery of the entire situation, the complete harmony, quality of the colour, the unity—everything combines to label it a great performance.” —W. H. de B. Nelson, 1916

In this verdant garden oasis, a counterpart to the open air Sunlight and Shadow painted a few years earlier, William Merritt Chase presents an autobiographical glimpse into his life as a newlywed and father. The painting is set in the backyard of Chase’s parents’ Marcy Avenue home in Brooklyn, where he and his wife had moved in 1887 in anticipation of the birth of their first child, Alice (“Cosy”). Chase’s wife appears seated at the table beside baby Cosy in the high chair. Standing in front of the screen is Chase’s sister Hattie; Chase’s sister-in-law Virginia lounges in the hammock. In a manner akin to his studio ensembles, Chase builds up the scene through color harmonies, layered surfaces, vibrant brushwork, and an array of objects and accessories from both the West and East: the Spanish shawl draped on the empty chair, the Japanese screen and cap, and the Dutch 17th-century hat. That Chase kept this painting until his death is testimony to its special meaning for him.

Elsa Smithgall, Exhibition Curator

3 thoughts on “Who’s Who in William Merritt Chase’s “The Open Air Breakfast”

  1. Pingback: “Do not try to paint the grandiose thing …” | Hidden Cause, Visible Effects

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