William Merritt Chase’s beautiful paintings and pastels of urban parks and
public spaces are the first major American landscapes executed in the
Impressionist technique. The landscapes, marking a pivotal period in
American art history, led Chase to a breakthrough in his painting career and
renewed acclaim from art critics.
William Merritt Chase: Modern American Landscapes, 1886–1890 presents
a remarkable group of the painter’s outdoor scenes of New York. The
exhibition includes intriguing views of Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect and
Tompkins parks, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Gowanus Bay, Bath Beach, and
Chase’s family backyard in Brooklyn.
In his early career, Chase (1849–1916) was hailed as a genius bound to
transform American art upon his return from his training in Munich in the
1870s. But by 1885, critics were assailing Chase’s work as too closely
aligned with the Munich style and lacking truly American subjects. Also, the
artist was working at a time of heightened attention to declining morals
among city dwellers. His audience in the United States demanded art that
reinforced its nationalist sentiments and desire to preserve social order.
Chase answered his critics by applying the French avant-garde concept of
the detached observer of modern life to American urban landscapes. He
chose as his subjects the parks and harbors of New York—deliberately
focusing on this subject matter to underscore the civility of modern American
This highly focused exhibition of approximately 30 works reflects new
research into Chase’s life and into the locations of his urban landscapes,
shedding light on a beautiful and significant aspect of the artist’s work— his
first serious exploration of the American landscape and his pioneering work
as an American Impressionist.
William Merritt Chase: Modern American Landscapes, 1886–1890 has been
made possible by the generous support of Charles Butt; The New York
Community Trust—Neuberger Berman, LLC Fund; Mr. and Mrs. Meredith J.
Long; and Samuel F. Gorman.
William Merritt Chase
oil on canvas
Institute of Chicago
bequest of Dr.
John J. Ireland.