The Particular Fishiness of Fish

Chase_Still Life-Fish

William Merritt Chase, Still Life–Fish, c. 1900. Oil on canvas, 44 1/2 x 56 1/8 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Hayden Collection–Charles Henry Hayden Fund

In the early 20th century, William Merritt Chase returned with renewed vigor to still life painting, a genre he had pursued since the beginning of his career. Most but not all of these works were given over to fish, due at once to their popularity with collectors and museums and Chase’s great pleasure in their making. For this reason, Chase jokingly quipped, “It may be that I will be remembered as a painter of fish.” He explained at the end of his life his attraction to the “subtle and exquisitely colored tones of the flesh fresh from the water, the way their surfaces reflect the light.” When museum founder Duncan Phillips paid tribute to the artist upon his death, he singled Chase out as being “unequalled by any other painter in the representation of the shiny, slippery, fishiness of fish.”

Elsa Smithgall, Exhibition Curator

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