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Chase, William Merritt Self Portrait: The Artist in His Studio, 1915


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.

  • Self Portrait: The Artist in His Studio, 1915
  • 52″ x 63″
  • Art Association of Richmond
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: indoors, people, men, painters, tools, eyeglasses, hands

The artist has painted himself at his craft. According to William Forsyth, “Though not a large man, [Chase] is distinguished in appearance—with the dash and bearing rather of a military man than of the traditional artist. . . . He has always stood for good craftsmanship. His language is paint and he expresses himself in it. . . . “The charm of color, quality, form, arrangement, and tone is his, and always the insistence on the masterly use of the painter’s materials.” This painting is life-size.

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students to critique the merits of this painting based on the criteria “charm of color, quality, form, and arrangement.” (Art 4.3.1, 4.4.2, 4.5.1) Ask students to describe what is happening in this painting. What do they think is the meaning of the scene? Do they think Chase’s attire seems fitting for someone who is painting a large canvas, or is his attire in keeping with what they have read about his personality? (Art 4.3.2)