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William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916)
Also known as: Chase, William MerritBirth Place: Williamsburg (Wayne county, Indiana, United States)
Although William Merritt Chase excelled as an Impressionist landscapist in his later career, he was consistently masterful as a figure painter, utilizing a particular palette and body configuration and accompanying accessories to complement a sitter's personality. Born in Indiana, Chase studied portraiture and figure painting at the National Academy of Design in New York before enrolling in 1872 in Munich's Royal Academy, whose program would bear a strong influence on his work for the next few decades. Here, access to Old Master paintings afforded Chase the opportunity to copy figural works by Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Rembrandt van Rijn, and an especial favorite, Diego Velázquez. In teaching the Dutch and Spanish Old Masters, the Munich School also introduced Chase to the concepts of realist painting, including a dark, earth-toned palette; dramatic tonal gradations; and everyday subjects.
After his stay in Munich, Chase settled in New York in 1878 and began his teaching career. He taught at the Art Students' League of New York and then at his own Chase School of Art, founded in 1896 (later known as the New York School of Art). He devoted much of his time and energy to teaching, not only at the League, but also at the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Shinnecock Summer School of Art. As a leader of the insurgent younger painters who challenged the authority of the National Academy of Design, he was a founding member of the Society of American Artists and, in 1880, was elected its president. As one writer noted, "His large, sumptuously decorated studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, which he took soon after his return to New York, was the most famous artist's studio in America and a virtual manifesto of his and his generation's artistic practices and beliefs, and of the dignity of the artist's calling."
The vigorous handling and fresh color characteristic of much of the best American painting of the early twentieth century owes a good deal to Chase's example. His pupils included Demuth, O'Keefe, and Sheeler. Chase was a highly prolific artist (his output of more than 2000 paintings included still lifes, portraits, interiors, and landscapes), and his work is represented in many American museums. The recipient of numerous awards for his many American exhibitions, Chase also was honored with a knighthood in the Order of Saint Michael by the prince regent of Bavaria in 1908.
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