New York, N.Y.
A renowned painter and printmaker, William Merritt Chase was also the leading art teacher of his day. His students included Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Georgia O’Keeffe, Joseph Stella, Charles Sheeler and Marsden Hartley. Chase’s landscape paintings from the late 1880s were the first depictions of American scenes done in the then-new impressionist style. A prolific artist, his works included portraits, still-lifes and interior scenes. Born in Williamsburg, Indiana in 1849, Chase’s family moved to Indianapolis in 1861, where he took lessons in drawing from local artists while working in his father’s show store, interrupted by a brief time in the U.S. Navy in 1867. In 1869 Chase when to New York City where he studied under Joseph Oriel Eaton (1829-1875) before entering the National Academy of Design, where he studied under Lemuel Everett Wilmarth (1835-1918). His family moved to St. Louis, and Chase joined them there in 1870 and found work painting portraits and still-lifes. He exhibited at a St. Louis fair and the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibition in 1871. After a group of St. Louis businessmen offered him a stipend for study in Europe, Chase enrolled in the Royal Academy in Munich in the fall of 1872, where he studied until 1877, receiving medals for his work and a commission to paint a group portrait of the children of Academy director Karol Theodor von Piloty (1826-1886). A painting he had given to one of his St. Louis sponsors exhibited at the National Academy’s 1875 exhibition and another shown at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia received praise from critics. Chase returned to New York City to teach at the Art Students League in 1878; New York was his home for the rest of his life. He quickly became involved with artists’ organizations, joining the Salmagundi Club in 1878 and the Tile Club and the American Water-Color Society in 1879. Elected to the Society of American Artists in 1879, he was elected president in 1880 for one year and was president for ten years beginning in 1885. Chase took summer trips to Europe beginning in 1881 until he married Alice Gerson (1866-1927) in 1886. His first one-man exhibition was at the Boston Art Club in 1886, followed by a solo show in New York City in 1887. He began teaching at the Brooklyn Art School in 1887. Chase was elected as an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1888 and a full member in 1890. One of his paintings won a silver medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889. Chase and his family began spending summers on Long Island, and with the support of patrons he opened the Shinnecock Hills Summer Art School in Southampton, Long Island, in 1891, for the first of twelve seasons. Chase stopped teaching at the Art Students League in 1894 and the Brooklyn Art School in 1895, and the following year open his own Chase School of Art and also began teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He also taught occasionally at the Art Institute of Chicago. He sold his art school in 1898 but continued to teach at the renamed New York School of Art until 1907 when he resigned after a dispute with fellow instructor Robert Henri (1865-1929). His paintings won gold medals at the Pennsylvania Academy exhibitions in 1895 and 1901 and exhibitions in Paris (1900), Buffalo (1901), Charleston (1902), St. Louis (1904) and Buenos Aires (1910). After he closed his Shinnecock Hills School in 1902, he began traveling to Europe more frequently, including a 1902 trip to London where John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) painted his portrait. Chase began teaching summer classes in Europe, including Holland (1903), London (1904), Madrid (1905), Florence (1907-1911), Belgium (1912) and Venice (1913), and in Carmel, California (1914). An entire gallery was devoted to thirty-two of his works at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, where he was a member of the International Jury of Awards. Chase received on honorary doctorate from New York University in 1916. He became ill later that year, and died at home in New York City on October 25. (TNB 12/2014) Selected bibliography: Gallati, Barbara Dayer. William Merritt Chase. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.