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

Artists in Italy: Giorgio Morandi

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1953. Oil on canvas, 8 x 15 7/8 in.(20.3 x 40.3 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Acquired 1954.

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1953. Oil on canvas, 8 x 15 7/8 in. (20.3 x 40.3 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Acquired 1954.

Read part one and part two in this series.

Lastly, the native Italian Giorgio Morandi,  born in Bologna in 1890, studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti of Bologna where he trained in the classical Italian and Flemish styles of painting. During his last years there, his style began to change, having been briefly influenced by futurism and other modern trends. The arrangements of objects seen in Still Life, 1953 (shown above) and Still Life, 1950 (shown below) reflect his mature style. His earthy and subdued palette corresponds in tone to the Prendergast piece, which draws a connection between the oldest and the newest work on display here, highlighting the continual influence Italy exerted on these artists who depicted its beauty.

 Drew Lash, Curatorial Intern

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1950. Oil on canvas, 14 1/8 x 18 5/8 in. (35.9 x 47.3 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Acquired 1957.

Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1950. Oil on canvas, 14 1/8 x 18 5/8 in. (35.9 x 47.3 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Acquired 1957.