New Terrain: Chase as Plein-Air Painter

Chase_Washing Day

William Merritt Chase, Washing Day—A Backyard Reminiscence of Brooklyn, c. 1887. Oil on wood panel, 15 1/4 x 18 5/8 in. Collection of Lilly Endowment, Inc.

During the 1880s, William Merritt Chase became active in New York’s artistic avant-garde through his affiliation with two progressive arts organizations: Society of American Artists (president 1880–81; 1885–1895) and the Society of American Painters in Pastel (co-founder, 1883). A natural-born orator and marketer, Chase led the charge of a younger generation of American artists determined to transform their country’s provincial cultural landscape by introducing a new modern spirit in American art. While continuing to work from his Tenth Street studio, the artist increasingly turned his eye and brush to capturing nature’s passing beauties. Regular visits to Europe between 1881 and 1885 inspired him to investigate the varying effects of natural light and atmosphere in plein-air paintings in oil and pastel.

In the Netherlands during the summers of 1883 and 1884, Chase produced several works that capture the region’s cool, moist light cast upon its coastline or grassy terrain. To translate the brilliant effects he observed, the artist lightened his palette and loosened his brushwork, turning away from the loaded brush and dark colors of the Munich style. A devoted pastel painter, Chase began to exploit the possibilities of the pastel medium to further expand his technical and expressive range.

Chase_A City Park

William Merritt Chase, A City Park, c. 1887. Oil on canvas, 13 5/8 x 19 5/8 in. Art Institute of Chicago. Bequest of Dr. John J. Ireland

By 1887, after several summers abroad, Chase settled in Brooklyn with his new wife, Alice Gerson, where he discovered new aesthetic possibilities in the urban parks and coastline in and around Brooklyn and Manhattan. Carrying small panels and a portable easel, Chase worked with ease to capture the immediacy of his surroundings in dazzling strokes of color. These small jewel-like pictures of Tompkins, Prospect, and Central Parks marked a dramatic turn in Chase’s development of his own distinctly American Impressionist style. Boldly executed, the compositions prefigured the light-filled Shinnecock landscapes that defined his work in the following decade.

Elsa Smithgall, William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master exhibition curator

ArtGrams: Karel Appel

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Photo: Instagram/1998.07.05

In this month’s ArtGrams, we’re sharing your photos snapped in special exhibition Karel Appel: A Gesture of Color. Share your photos in and around the museum for a chance to be featured on the blog.

karel appel_aliciahai

Photo: Instagram/aliciahai

karel appel_lizlaribee

“There is a very quiet joy in seeing strangers think about something you can’t see.” – Instagrammer @lizlaribee

karel appel_mmaauurreeeenn

Photo: Instagram/mmaauurreeeenn

karel appel_badaily

Photo: Instagram/badaily

karel appel_rosetoes18

Photo: Instagram/rosetoes18

karel appel_brite_yung_galaxie

“I can’t even explain to you how awesome it is to get to open kids’ minds everyday to the world of art…I know that museum visits were a very important part of my childhood, and now the universe has created an entirely new path for me to fuse all of my passions into a crazy colorful quilt of a career…” – Instagrammer @brite_yung_galaxie

karel appel_mlfoster_13

Detail shot by Instagrammer @mlfoster_13

karel appel_ryanrayofsunshine

Photo: Instagram/ryanrayofsunshine

karel appel_malo_nyc

Photo: Instagram/malo_nyc

karel appel_whilewandering

Photo: Instagram/whilewandering

karel appel__cowabungadude_

Photo: Instagram/_cowabungadude_

karel appel_fromshiptoshoredc

Photo: Instagram/fromshiptoshoredc

 

ArtGrams is a monthly series in which we feature our favorite Instagrammed pictures taken around or inspired by the museum. Each month, we’ll feature a different theme based on trends we’ve seen in visitor photos. Hashtag your images with #PhillipsCollection or tag your location for a chance to be featured.

A “Monstrous Lampoon” of a Portrait

Portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler by William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1885. Oil on canvas, 74 1/8 x 36 1/4 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of William H. Walker, 1918

In 1885, William Merritt Chase stopped in London on his way to Madrid to pay a visit to James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the artist whom he had revered since the late 1870s, sharing with him a passion for the ideals of beauty and harmony in art. Upon Whistler’s urging, Chase stayed the summer so that they could sit for each other’s portraits. Their friendly relationship soon deteriorated into bitter quarreling in the face of Chase’s struggle with Whistler’s two-sided personality: “One was Whistler in public—the fop, the cynic, the brilliant, flippant, vain, and careless idler; the other was Whistler of the studio—the earnest, tireless, somber worker, a very slave to his art, a bitter foe to all pretense and sham, an embodiment of simplicity.”

To evoke the public persona of Whistler in his portrait, Chase adopts the technique of his protégé in his use of a limited palette, soft background, and thinly applied application of paint. Chase’s portrait captured his sitter’s trademark features: the white lock of hair, bushy eyebrows, carefully waxed mustache, monocle over one eye, and wand. Writing to his wife, Chase reported that his portrait “promises to be the best thing I’ve done.” Whistler, on the other hand, dismissed it as a “monstrous lampoon.” We can only guess what Whistler’s portrait of Chase may have looked like; its whereabouts remain unknown and some suggest that Whistler may have destroyed it.

Elsa Smithgall, Exhibition Curator