My Hide and Seek Story


William Merritt Chase, Hide and Seek, 1888. Oil on canvas, 27 5/8 x 35 7/8 in. Acquired 1923. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

After working at the Phillips Collection for 4 years, many of the artworks have become familiar friends. Hide and Seek, a painting by American artist William Merritt Chase, is definitely one such painting. When I initially looked at this work, I couldn’t help but imagine a story about two girls, sisters, playing hide in seek in their grand old house somewhere in New England. The girl in the lower left, the older sister, is peering out behind the wall to get a glimpse of where her younger sister is about to hide. I hear the quiet footsteps as the younger sister carefully finds a place, the giggle of the older sister laughing at her deception, and the clanging of pots and pans in the adjacent kitchen (not pictured) as the mother prepares dinner for the girls.

I see Hide and Seek so frequently that I forgot that my story about the artwork was just that–a story, made up from my imagination and not the actual intention of the artist. I recently included Hide and Seek on a tour and asked two related questions: “What is going on in this artwork? What is the story?” These simple questions lead to flurry of ideas and even more questions from the visitors as they created stories of their own–who are the girls? How do they know each other? Which girl is hiding and which girl is seeking? How many others are playing and are hiding out of our view? Are we, as the viewers, part of the game? I was pleased to hear so many interpretations of the work, especially ones that challenged my assumptions of who the girls are and how the game is being played. Next time you visit the Phillips, keep the question “what is the story?” in your mind, you just might make a few new friends.

Ellen Stedtefeld, Gallery Educator

William Merritt Chase: Hide and Seek

William Merritt Chase, Hide and Seek, 1888. Oil on canvas, 27 5/8 x 35 7/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1923.

Hide and Seek is one of my favorite paintings in The Phillips Collection. Notable for its restraint, it is a marvel of visual economy. Hide and Seek was not a typical work for Chase, who was known for his tendency to paint cluttered interiors. His studio was filled with curios from all corners of the world, including a white Russian wolfhound, two macaws, and a cockatoo. There are only four objects in Hide and Seek, and Chase makes each one count Continue reading