Editor's note: The Indianapolis Museum of Art provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the The Indianapolis Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


William Merritt Chase: Four Paintings from the Lilly Endowment Collection


Indiana-born William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) dominated American art during the late 19th century. A master of technique, he was among the first artists to produce substantial Impressionist landscapes in the United States.

After studying at the Royal Academy in Munich, Chase returned to America and settled in New York City, which remained his home for the remainder of his life. His paintings of the parks and harbors of 19th-century Brooklyn and Manhattan are considered to be among the most significant examples of Impressionism created in America.

Chase became one of the most important American art teachers of his generation. He taught at the Art Students' League of New York, at his own Chase School of Art, and at Shinnecock, Long Island, where he started the first summer school of landscape painting. His pupils included Charles Demuth, Georgia O'Keeffe and Charles Sheeler.

Chase produced more than 2,000 paintings, including still lifes, portraits, interiors and landscapes, and his work is represented in many American museums. The four paintings in this exhibition were produced during Chase's most productive and revered period and represent his Impressionist style. Completed between 1885 and 1905, the works include New York and Long Island landscapes along with an example of the artist's still-life painting of peonies, his favorite floral subject.


Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, Lafayette

November 16, 2002 ­ February 2, 2003

Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington

February 15 ­ May 4, 2003

Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne

May 17 ­ August 3, 2003

Ball State University Museum of Art, Muncie

August 16 ­ November 2, 2003

Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute

November 15, 2003 ­ February 1, 2004

The Snite Museum of Art, South Bend

February 14 ­ May 2, 2004

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis

May 15 ­ August 1, 2004

This exhibition is supported by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. and is organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.


Following are images of paintings from the traveling exhibition accompanied by wall texts and interpretative labels for works in the exhibition.


William Merritt Chase: Four Paintings from the Lilly Endowment Collection

William Merritt Chase was a virtuoso painter, influential teacher, and dynamic advocate of American art. Born in Nineveh, Indiana in 1849, Chase moved with his family to Indianapolis in 1861 and began his training with local artist Barton Hays as a teenager. Hays quickly recognized his potential and sent Chase to New York for further study. In 1872 Chase departed for Munich to attend the Royal Academy. He returned to America in 1878 and settled in New York, which would remain his home for the remainder of his life. During the 1880s Chase adopted the principles of Impressionism, creating paintings that show his technical prowess and versatility. In his own lifetime, Chase was equally admired for his skill as a painter and his talent as a teacher.

With his top hat, cutaway coat, and Russian wolfhound, Chase was one of the most cosmopolitan characters of his day. His elaborate New York studio, filled with exotic objects and furniture, was not only a comfortable area for painting, but also a gallery and a showplace that became a center for artists and collectors alike. Chase, the dapper artist, was also a devoted family man, who frequently chose his wife and eight children as the subjects of his work.

Chase's paintings of the parks and harbors of nineteenth-century Brooklyn and Manhattan are often considered to be some of the most significant examples of Impressionism created in America. By transforming these everyday scenes into works of art, Chase created an identifiable American art that combined an impressionist aesthetic with the artist's own innovative presentation. These distinctly American subjects earned Chase critical acclaim and an invitation to head the famous Shinnecock Summer School of Art in 1890, which offered both men and women an opportunity to perfect their artistic skills in an outdoor environment.

This exhibition comprises four paintings representing Chase's impressionist works produced during his most productive and revered period. On display are extremely important examples of the artist's work, including New York and Long Island landscapes, intimate views created through personal experience, and an example of Chase's still life painting of peonies, his favorite floral subject.


About Lilly Endowment

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private philanthropic foundation based in Indianapolis that was created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family, Josiah K. Lilly Sr. and his sons, Josiah K. Jr. and Eli, through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although gifts of stock in the company remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location.

In keeping with the wishes of its founders, the Endowment exists to support the causes of community development, education and religion. It affords special emphasis to projects that benefit young people and that promote leadership education and financial self-sufficiency in the nonprofit sector. The Lilly family's foremost priority was to help the people of their city and state build a better life. Although the Endowment supports efforts of national significance and an occasional international project, it remains primarily committed to its hometown and home state.

Over the years the Endowment has sought to recognize, encourage and develop creativity in the state. It takes great pride in Indiana's heritage of cultural accomplishment. The Hoosier Group includes some of Indiana's most important Impressionist painters. To ensure significant examples of their work stayed in Indiana for the benefit of its citizens, the Endowment acquired the works you see in this exhibition.

William Merritt Chase
Peonies, about 1903
oil on canvas
Lilly Endowment Inc. Collection
For Chase, still life gave him an opportunity to
address a subject for the pure pleasure of
painting. During his lifetime the artist
produced more than one hundred still life
compositions that, combined with his portrait
commissions, made up the bulk of his income.
Chase rarely chose flowers for his still life
subjects, because he considered them "the
most difficult things" to paint. The floral still
lifes that he did create were simple
compositions that focused on a single vase of
flowers as can be seen in Peonies. Even
though the work is not as complex as his
nonfloral pieces, Chase had the capacity for
capturing the transient nature of the flowers,
an idea that he emphasized in this piece by
including a fallen bloom and scattered petals
on the table.


William Merritt Chase
Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, about 1895
oil on canvas
Lilly Endowment Inc. Collection
In 1891 Chase opened the Shinnecock
Summer School of Art for Men and Women on
Long Island. It was the first important
outdoor summer art school of its kind in
America. Chase also built a house, designed
by Stanford White, where his family spent the
summer months. Shinnecock Hills depicts
Chase's daughters at play in the dunes around
their home. They are almost overwhelmed by
the brushes and wire grasses that are the
area's primary vegetation. Although only two
of Chase's three daughters are shown in the
painting the basket in the foreground suggests
there was probably a third member of the
family who was once a part of the scene and is
now out of the viewer's and the artist's vision.


William Merritt Chase
Summertime (Pulling for Shore),
about 1886
oil on wood panel
Lilly Endowment Inc. Collection
Summertime offers a view across a lake
painted in Chase's Impressionist style. This
idyllic scene with its solitary woman rowing in
the sunlight makes a statement about the
activity that had just become an acceptable
recreational pursuit for women in a genteel
society. Chase was the first major artist to
embrace the city park as a frequent subject
for his art. Critics felt Chase's park paintings
were a fresh approach to a distinctly
American subject. He was even credited for
educating the community on the need to
maintain public parks for future generations.


William Merritt Chase
Wash Day (Washing Day -- A Backyard
Reminiscence), about 1886
oil on wood panel
Lilly Endowment Inc. Collection
This boldly constructed composition is filled
with dramatic perspectives, vibrant patterns
of light and shadow and diagonals formed by
the clotheslines that converge near the tree.
The figure is cut off at the bottom just as the
trunk of the background tree is hidden by the
clothesline, which connects the two vertical
images. Chase's painting was aimed at both
sophisticated viewers, who would recognize
its originality and the casual audience who
would see it as a commonplace image of a
Brooklyn backyard. The backyard is most
likely that of Chase's father who was living
in Brooklyn at the time, and the figure is
probably the artist's young sister.



Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Indianapolis Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2003 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.