William Merritt Chase: Family Portraits
June 11, 2011 to October 9, 2011
William Merritt Chase: Family Portraits is the first exhibition to gather the acclaimed artist’s exquisite paintings of his wife and children. Organized and presented exclusively by the Paine Art Center and Gardens in Oshkosh, the exhibition brings together twenty of Chase’s finest family portraits from museums and private collections spanning the country.
The exhibition offers a fascinating look at the private life and career of one of the most celebrated artists working in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A gifted artist and influential teacher, William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) was an extraordinarily versatile painter of light-filled Impressionist landscapes, decorative interiors, and realistic still lifes. Perhaps best known as one of the most accomplished portraitists of his day, Chase’s favorite models and subjects were his beloved wife, Alice Gerson Chase, and their eight children.
Will Chase, a debonair bachelor and promising artist, met the young Alice Gerson in New York in 1880. Alice soon became Chase’s muse and favorite model. The two married in 1886, beginning a rich artistic and domestic partnership that thrived until Chase’s death in 1916. Chase painted his beautiful wife on numerous occasions, in portrayals ranging from innocent, youthful model to loving wife and mother, supportive critic, and sophisticated society matron. The couple raised eight children, and Chase delighted in capturing their likenesses on canvas. Their eldest child, Alice Dieudonnée, was born in 1887 and inspired many of Chase’s most sensitive, innovative works. Third daughter Dorothy Brémond was also a frequent sitter, while portraits of Koto Robertine, Helen Velázquez, Hazel Neamaug, Robert Stewart, Roland Dana, and Mary Content are less common, albeit equally compelling.
The exhibition is inspired by a rare and ravishing portrait from the Paine’s collection of Chase’s second daughter, Koto Robertine, depicted as a mature woman in her twenties. This engaging, distinguished likeness is joined by a variety of other formal portrayals of Chase’s wife and children, several of which were intended as exhibition pieces to demonstrate his virtuoso skills for potential commissions. Intimate interiors, charming sketches, and expressive renderings created purely for the family’s enjoyment offer a lovely contrast by capturing more casual, everyday moments.
Among the most impressive works in the exhibition are a series of dramatic full-length portraits dating from the early 1900s. A particularly famous, iconic example is The Open Japanese Book, an extraordinary life-size portrait of Alice Dieudonnée dressed in an elegant kimono and holding a book of vibrantly colored Japanese prints. Another astonishing example is the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s portrait Dorothy, featuring the artist’s third daughter in a fashionable white dress and delightful straw hat. With her confident pose and riveting gaze, Dorothy was aptly described by one historian in 1917 as “simply bewitching.”
The exhibition also reveals the artist’s dynamic personality through two remarkable self-portraits, including Self-Portrait in the Studio, completed in 1916, the final year of Chase’s life. Offering an intriguing glimpse of the artist at work, this tour-de-force self-portrait is the culminating masterpiece of Chase’s career and reaffirms his status as a leading American Impressionist through the composition’s bold, vigorous brushwork and adept handling of light.
For the first time, the Paine’s exhibition will gather Chase’s deeply personal portrayals of his family members, which embody the artist’s most magnificent and compelling work. Praised for their brilliant technique, sophistication, and charm, these portraits were among Chase’s most critically acclaimed works during his lifetime. William Merritt Chase: Family Portraits sheds new light on one of America’s greatest portraitists and the touching and powerful inspiration he found within his own family