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Chase, William Merritt Dorothy Chase, 1902


William Merritt Chase is one of the most renowned Indiana artists outside the state and considered to be the foremost still-life painter of his time in the United States. He began a business career at age 16 when he and his father opened the largest shoe store in Indianapolis, one section of which was the first women’s shoe store in the West. However, Chase was more interested in drawing than in selling shoes, and so his father allowed him to study art. After a year of tutelage from Barton S. Hays, Chase went to New York City to study at the National Academy of Design. He moved to St. Louis, where he painted still lifes and portraits, and in 1872 entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. He struggled there because he wanted to compose his own pictures instead of using conventional ideas. He was not only criticized by his teachers but also ran out of money. His luck changed when Karl von Piloty, one of his teachers, was impressed with a painting he had done, and asked him to paint his children. After that Chase received many commissions and prizes. In 1878, he returned to New York City to teach at the Art Students League. He was a leader there in art circles and a genuine teacher. He encouraged his pupils to use paint with freedom, instead of just drawing. He had a wide range of subjects: portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and genre. Chase also used a variety of media for artistic expression: oil, watercolor, pastel, and engraving.

  • Dorothy Chase, 1902
  • 72″ x 36″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: people, girls, hats

This is a portrait of Chase’s youngest daughter. His favorite subjects were his family, but he produced many full-length portraits of young girls between 1886 and 1902. This is one of the largest and most formal of his works. Done with his usual brilliant technique and cosmopolitan sophistication, qualities that helped bring him his initial fame in portraiture, this picture seems both fashionable and aesthetically pure. Chase is remembered for his realistic color.

Some Points To Consider

  • Tell students that Dorothy was probably 9 or 10 years old when this portrait was painted. Ask them what questions they would ask Dorothy about her life in 1902. Write their questions on the board or on a flip chart and help them develop a hypothesis about Dorothy as a person. (Art 4.5.1)
  • Ask students what mood the artist portrayed in his choice of expression, gesture, and attire, and why. (Art 4.3.1)
  • Have students use their altered book journals to write descriptive sentences about this portrait using the art terms and principles of design that have been discussed in class. Have each student share one observation with the whole class. (Art 4.3.1, 4.3.2, 4.5.2)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • Provide class time for students to paint their own self-portraits. Ask them to be sure to include objects that reveal facts about their personality and interests.
  • Have students imagine that Dorothy Chase is one of their classmates. Ask them to write a personality sketch about her. What are her interests? How has she been reared? What are her values?
  • Project the image of this portrait on a large surface but make it out of focus. Give each student a 9″ x 12″ sheet of paper and a pencil. Ask students to shade with the sides of their pencils the largest shapes they see. Then bring the image a little bit into focus and give students time to draw more details and make value changes. Continue to sharpen the focus of the image and allow time for students to refine their work. This is a good way to understand how an Impressionist painter works with value, shape, and intensity.