Los Angeles

William Merritt Chase

U.C. Art Gallery, Santa Barbara

This first West Coast exhibition of William Merritt Chase has been organized for the UCSB Art Gallery under the direction of Mrs. Ala Story as Staff Specialist, working with Dr. David Gebhard, Gallery Director. It opens on October 6th.

Mrs. Story, formerly Director of the Santa Barbara Art Museum has assembled a remarkable group of 46 Chase paintings from across the U.S.A. Many of Chase’s finest works are in the show, which is exciting, colorful and filled with the flavor of an affirmative joyous celebration of American life that manifested itself during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Chase’s paintings are filled with the spirit of his time but are no mere documents of human events; in retrospect he stands as an enduring American painter of precept, courage and value. His paintings are beautiful and sure: quality, organization, wit, drama and color are eloquent and vivid.

Chase believed in America and American art and artists. He encouraged their vigorous youth and industry and believed that an intelligent and determined dedication would develop a high point in American art. A man of elegant and discriminating taste, there was nothing negative about his approach to life or art. He had strong opinions, was sincere, generous, extroverted, and a profoundly patriotic citizen who sired 14 children (8 of whom survived) and surrounded himself with beauty, gaiety and the richness of life.

His home was a veritable art museum filled with Chinese chests, Spanish furniture, Japanese prints and Oriental rugs. He was no Puritan. All of this is reflected in the richness and elegance of his subject matter, his color, flair and style. Whether he was painting a delicate landscape or a beautiful, delicate woman, his sensitive approach was virile and strong.

One of Chase’s major contributions to American art was in the advancements of technique which he brought back from his European studies. He taught his students greater freedom, how to drag the paint. He worked at all times with color itself and had a remarkable ability to continue to develop and remain fluid. His career as a teacher was enormously successful. In 1878, upon his return to New York he was appointed instructor at the Art Students League. He was never academic in his approach to teaching but creative and original. He gave students further encouragement by purchasing their works and hanging them alongside the masterpieces in his home.

He studied in Europe under Fritz August Kaulbach, Wilhelm Leibl and Karl von Piloty in 1873–74. In 1875 he shared a studio with Frank Duveneck, and used Duveneck as a model in various canvases. In 1877 he declined the honor of a Professorship at the Royal Academy and returned to New York in 1878. A sturdy partisan in 1879, he was made President of the Society of American Artists, a group of artists who were determined to break away from academic tradition and seek individual expression.

Chase was a great admirer of Whistler and met him in 1885 in London after a brief correspondence with him. They spent the summer painting each other. Whistler, in the present exhibit, is one of his most important canvases and is from the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum. In 1890 he became a member of the National Academy.

His summer home, Shinnecock, was designed and built by Stanford White and McKim Meade. Chase founded a summer school there which became an art colony. He sandwiched numerous trips to Europe between his painting and teaching and at one time made an intense six-month study of Velasquez. In 1907–08 he went to Italy and was commissioned by the Italian government to paint a self-portrait for the permanent collection of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

In 1914 Chase traveled West to California where he organized summer classes at Carmel. There was also a room of his paintings on exhibit at the Pan American Exposition in San Francisco.

His awards and citations and honors are much too numerous and extensive to include but they present a fairly complete survey of the activities, institutions, and organizations that flourished during his time and became the steady stream of American art as we know it today. Chase worked out his destiny in his own land and died in 1916 leaving the world his rich distinguished heritage of joy, work and faith and a legacy of paintings of authority, magic and rich beauty.

Karl Von Piloty said of American art, “Yours will yet be the great country of artists and art lovers, everything points to it. You have the subjects and you have the great inspiration of the place where life is being lived. It is not merely the land of opportunity, but also it is the land where opportunity is seized and utilized by great men.”

The Chase show is the first in what will be a series of annual major shows for the University Gallery. From Santa Barbara the Chase exhibition will travel to The La Jolla Art Center, the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Seattle Art Museum and the new Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art in New York City.

Harriette Von Breton