Staff Show 2016: Travis Houze

In this series, Education Specialist for Public Programs Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 19, 2016.

Travis Houze, The Purification of Summer

Travis Houze, “The Purification of Summer”

Travis Houze

Travis Houze, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Travis Houze. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Tell us about yourself and your work.

If there is anything that I want many to know about my vision, it generally can be summed up in two elements. The first is I use a warm-toned color palette, consisting of darker reds, browns, and yellows. The second is chiaroscuro, where I tend to keep the subjects I photograph illuminated a little more than the background that surrounds them.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I currently work as a Museum Assistant. I believe one of the interesting aspects in my job is being close to so many great masters of painting and learning the various different ways the painters use their paints, whether its oil or acrylic.

Who are your favorite artists in the collection?

Some of my favorites in the galleries consist of Pierre-Auguste Renoir for his attention to all the little details, Vincent van Gogh for his distinctive color palette used throughout most of his work, and William Merritt Chase for his use of chiaroscuro (the study of lighter objects against darker objects).

What is your favorite gallery or space within The Phillips Collection?

My favorite gallery space currently is the Music Room. What I love about the location is the grand scale and design of the ceiling and walls, and the fireplace that gives me a sense of the design elements seen in many other buildings in the 20th century.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2016 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

I came up with the photograph when the model in the image let me know of a hidden waterfall in the Maryland area. I was astounded by the scale of the waterfall and overall scenery. I knew then that I wanted the model to have some form of interaction with the environment and play the posing out a little more organically than my usual portrait work. I wanted to get as wide a shot as possible to not only show the size of the rocks in comparison to the model, but also the height of the waterfall.

The 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view August 14 through September 19, 2016.

Portrait of a Portait Artist: Lydia Field Emmet

Chase_Lydia Field Emmet

William Merritt Chase, Lydia Field Emmett, 1892. Oil on canvas, 72 x 36 1/8 in. Brooklyn Museum, New York, Gift of the artist

After years of study with him at the Art Students League, in 1891, Lydia Field Emmet accepted William Merritt Chase’s offer to lead the preparatory class at the Shinnecock Summer School of Art. By this time, she was also pursuing work as a society portraitist and a designer of stained glass for Tiffany and Company. Her self-assured expression fixed on Chase’s canvas captures an image of an artist who would become one of the foremost American women portrait painters of the late 19th century.

The portrait bears the strong imprint of the 17th century Dutch portraiture tradition, sharing with Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt, and Frans Hals an allegiance to painterly brushwork, elegant contrasts of light and dark, dramatic pose, and expressive tone. Moreover, Lydia Field Emmet highlights Chase’s skillful hand in conveying texture, as seen in the precise rendering of the lace and the variegated tones of the pink satin ribbon—signs of the enduring legacy of the artist’s Munich training.

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

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