William Merritt Chase
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Courtesy of The Pisano/Chase Catalogue Raisonné Project, Inc.

Portrait (Portrait of the Artist), c. 1883
The Complete Catalogue of Known and Documented Work by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Ronald G. Pisano, Completed by D. Frederick Baker and Carolyn K. Lane (Yale University Press)

This long and eagerly awaited catalogue celebrates not only the life and career of one of America’s foremost artists, William Merritt Chase, but the life’s work of a distinguished American art historian, Ronald G. Pisano (1948-2000). It spans four volumes:
1. Pastels, monotypes, tiles/plates, watercolors, and prints (published April, 2006). This volume also includes the complete record of every exhibition in which Chase exhibited during his lifetime – with titles of every work in each exhibition from 1870 until the Metropolitan Museum Memorial Exhibition in 1917 – selected exhibitions after this date are also included.
2. Portraits in oil (published April, 2007)
3. Landscapes in oil (scheduled for publication, spring, 2008). The volume will also include an extensive and detailed chronology.
4. Still lifes, figures, interiors, in oil, and drawings (scheduled publication, spring, 2009). The complete lifetime auction record will be appended to this volume.

William Merritt Chase was born in Indiana. He briefly studied art at the National Academy of Design in New York, but his work is most notably informed by his studies at the Royal Munich Academy in the 1870s. In fact, the role of German art academies in the late 19th century has yet to be explored in depth; of the few recent major exhibitions centered on the relationship between American artists and the German art academies, none have taken place in the United States. It is interesting and important to note that at the time Chase was given the opportunity to study in Europe, he believed the best artists were French and working in and about Paris. However, he felt the best art academies were in Germany. The Royal Munich Academy in particular espoused a muscular, dynamic approach to the study of art making, based on heady, bravura painting, one that Chase not only reveled in, but an approach to art upon which he based his entire career, even though he could, and often would, render subject matter with as fine a polish as anyone. It was also art for art’s sake without the pretensions of social comment or complicated iconography.

While Chase traveled extensively in Europe, mainly in conjuncture with his art school which, especially in the early years of the 20th century, held summer sessions in Belgium, Spain and Italy, he was basically a New York centered artist – his famous studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building seemed to be the epicenter of the New York City art world. He taught art to successive generations of students, primarily at the Art Students’ League in New York, at his own art school (which later became The Parsons School of Design, now part of the New School), and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia. His most renowned contribution as a teacher of art was his founding the Shinnecock Summer School of Art in Southampton, New York, which operated from 1891 until 1902. These halcyon days brought forth a body of work, the beach and dune Shinnecock landscapes, which is now recognized as among the most beautiful recordings of life in America at the end of the 19th century.

Chase was, by all accounts, a genial, and enthusiastic member of the New York art community: a founder of the Society of Painters in Pastel, member of The Tile Club, the New York Water Color Society, the New York Etching Club, the National Academy of Design, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and, for many years, president of the Society of American Artists. He exhibited widely in the United States and throughout the world, mainly in Europe, but also in South America.

The catalogue of Chase’s work grew out of the graduate school thesis of Ron Pisano, “The Students of William Merritt Chase.” In the course of his research, Ron came to realize that many student works were hanging in museums and in the homes of collectors with fake Chase signatures. Most were likely painted under the tutelage of Chase, employing the palette he used, and certainly the painterly dynamic he taught. But they weren’t painted by Chase. As Ron began to sort out the real from the fake, the catalogue began. And for over 30 years, until his untimely death in 2000, he amassed the files on which the catalogue is now based, ultimately finding that nearly1/3 of the paintings ascribed to Chase were, in fact, by other hands. Creating the catalogue of Chase works was especially difficult as Chase kept no records of any sort, at least none that could be found. The files which were assembled now include rare lifetime periodical, exhibition and auction records – which formed the basic arc of Chase’s career on which the catalogue was eventually written.

All the original material used to write the catalogue have been, or will be, deposited in the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Archives Center, Parsons School of Design, the New School, New York, and are jointed owned by the school and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, D. C.