William Merritt Chase 1849-1916

Autumn Still Life

  • 47 1/2 x 47 1/2 inches (120.7 x 120.7 cm)
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed center right: W. M. Chase
  • c. 1906

Why We Love It

Chase is recognized as one of the foremost American artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While he was equally adept at depicting a wide variety of subjects, the genre of still life proved to be particularly successful for him, both as a teaching tool and a source of income. As usual with Autumn Still Life, Chase managed to “paint the commonplace in such a way as to make it distinguished.” This masterful still life was bequeathed to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and remained in their collection until 2009.

The Value

Chase’s love of still life shows in so much of his work. His interior scenes are often scattered with a welter of objects painted with great dexterity and care. Autumn Still Life is an exceptional example of Chases’s mastery of the subject. The influence of the Dutch masters of the 17th century is so clear and finely born out. The impeccable provenance of this painting along with its fine condition and frame make it a stunning example of American still life.

Artist Background

1849: Born in Williamsburg, Indiana; 1861: Family moved to Indianapolis. Took private drawing lessons from local schoolteacher; 1869: Moved to New York City. Studied privately with Joseph Oriel Eaton and at the National Academy of Design (NAD); 1872: Spent summer in London and Paris. Enrolled at Royal Academy in Munich, where he studied with Alexander von Wagner; 1876: Won Medal of Honor at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia for “Keying Up – The Court Jester”; 1878: Exhibited four paintings at the inaugural exhibition of the Society of American Artists. Accepted teaching position at Art Students League. Rented painting studio at Tenth Street Studio Building; 1880: Elected president of Society of American Artists; 1881: Visited Antwerp and Madrid, where he studied the paintings of Velazquez. Started experimenting with plein-air painting during a trip to Long Island; 1886: Had first one-man exhibition at Boston Art Club, which was a major success. Married Alice Gerson; 1888: Elected as an associate member of the NAD; 1891: Founded Shinnecock Hills Summer School. Taught there for 12 consecutive years; 1895: Closed 10th Street studio; 1896: Began teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). Opened Chase School of Art; 1898: Relinquished administrative role at Chase School of Art, which is renamed the New York School of Art; 1901: Awarded Temple Gold Medal at PAFA; 1902: Closed Shinnecock School; 1905: Joined The Ten; 1907: Resigned from the New York School in protest to long-running dispute with Robert Henri. Resumed teaching at the Art Students League. Rented villa in Florence to teach summer class there; 1908: Elected member of American Academy of Arts and Letters; 1909: Resigned teaching position at PAFA, but maintained studio in Philadelphia for private teaching and portrait sittings; 1910: Had retrospective exhibition of 142 works at National Arts Club; 1913: Excluded from group of contemporary American painters at Armory Show; 1915: Gallery devoted to his work at Panama-Pacific Exposition; 1916: Died.

William Merritt Chase is recognized as one of the foremost American artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Celebrated for an eclectic body of work that cuts across subject matter, technique, and media, he was also a revered and influential teacher. Chase prized his artistic versatility and actively cultivated a flamboyant public persona that complemented the astonishing flexibility with which he shifted from one style to another.

While Chase demonstrated equal skill in depicting many different subjects, the genre of still life was a particularly rewarding one for the artist, both personally and professionally. He once described it as “a thoroughly sympathetic kind of painting” and extolled the advantages of painting still lifes purely for oneself over the “annoyances to which the portrait painter is constantly subjected.” Furthermore, the bulk of his income derived chiefly from the sale of his still lifes along with the proceeds from his commissioned portraits. Indeed, his prominence in this genre led Arthur Edwin Bye, the author of the first modern history of still-life painting, to state that Chase was “during his lifetime, the most conspicuous still-life painter in America.”

Chase produced at least one hundred still lifes over the course of his career, and this distinct body of work reveals glimpses of his personal taste, teaching techniques, and artistic philosophy. He often encouraged his students to “paint the commonplace in such a way as to make it distinguished,” and this same attitude can be clearly seen in his still lifes, which primarily focus on simple motifs of humble objects. In Autumn Still Life from about 1906, Chase depicts an unadorned arrangement of pumpkins, both sliced and whole, arrayed on a platter atop a dark green tablecloth. He beautifully renders the rich color and texture of these fall vegetables. Moreover, by using a large-scale format and high-contrast lighting, Chase imbues this ordinary still life with an extraordinary level of drama. This masterful still life was bequeathed to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and remained in their collection until 2009.