Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


William Merritt Chase

Nationality: American
Date of birth: 1849.11.01
Place of birth: Williamsburg, IN
Date of death: 1916.10.25
Place of death: New York City, NY
Category: painter, etcher


William Merritt Chase was an American painter and printmaker.


Chase trained in Indianapolis under the portrait painter Barton S. Hays; in New York at the National Academy of Design from 1869 to 1871; and in Munich under Alexander von Wagner, Karl Theodor von Piloty and Wilhelm von Diez at the Königliche Akademie from 1872. There he was encouraged to study the works of the old masters and to adopt a dark palette and free brushwork. He became friends with with Walter Shirlaw, J. Frank Currier, Frederick Dielman, Frank Duveneck and John H. Twachtman. The latter two accompanied him to Venice in 1877.

In 1875 he exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York, and received a medal at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. In 1878 Chase returned to New York to teach at the Arts Students League and he also gave private lessons in his studio. In 1881 he returned to Europe where he met the Belgian painter Alfred Stevens and came in contact with the work of the Impressionists. Their influence is apparent in a work like Sunlight and Shadow (1184; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha) with its light palette.

In 1885 Chase met Whistler in London and they agreed to paint each other's portrait. Only Chase's portrait of Whistler was completed (1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Whistler was concerned about its foppish nature and described it as a 'monstrous lampoon'.

Whistler's influence can be seen in Chase's profile portrait of a seated woman, Portrait of Dora Wheeler (1884; Cleveland Museum of Art), and in his full-length female portraits of the late 1880s and early 1890s, eg. Lady in Black (1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Whistler's methods of exhibiting his works also influenced Chase who was largely responsible for the exhibition of the Society of American Artists in 1884, which was described as 'a symphony in the key of - Chase'. Chase was an honorary member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers of which Whistler was its first President.

Octave Maus, the secretary of Les XX, invited Chase to contribute to the group's first exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1884. Whistler was also invited along with William Stott and John Singer Sargent.

Like Whistler, Chase was a talented pastelist (e.g. Back of a Nude, ca 1888, Private Collection). In 1882, along with Robert Frederick Blum, he set up the American Society of Painters in Pastel, a society which held four exhibitions from 1884 to 1890.

In 1891 he founded the Shinnecock Summer School of Art on Long Island where he taught until 1902. He also taught at the Brooklyn Art Association in 1887 and from 1891 to 1895, at the Chase School of Art from 1897 to 1907 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art from 1896 to 1909. He encouraged his students to work directly from nature and advocated that they paint directly on to the canvas forgoing any initial preparatory sketch. His students included Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Sheeler and Joseph Stella.


Roof, Katherine Metcalf, The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase, New York, 1917 ; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Pisano, R. G., William Merritt Chase, New York, 1979; Carr, C. K., William Merritt Chase: Portraits, Akron, 1982; Pisano, R. G., William Merritt Chase 1849-1916: A Leading Spirit in American Art, Seattle, 1983; Atkinson, D. C. and N. Cikovsky, William Merritt Chase: Summers at Shinnecock 1891-1902, Washington, 1987; Carr, Carolyn Kinder, 'William Merritt Chase', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy.

Elsa Smithgall, Erica E. Hirshler, Katherine M. Bourguignon, Giovanna Ginex , John Davis and D. Frederick Baker, William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia; and the Terra Foundation for American Art, Yale UP, 2016-2017.

The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler, 1855-1903, edited by Margaret F. MacDonald, Patricia de Montfort and Nigel Thorp. University of Glasgow, 2003.