About This Artwork

William Merritt Chase
American, 1849–1916

A City Park, c. 1887

Oil on canvas
34.6 × 49.9 cm (13 5/8 × 19 5/8 in.)
Signed, lower right: "Wm M. Chase."

Bequest of Dr. John J. Ireland, 1968.88

William Merritt Chase was one of the most influential painters in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. After an extended stay in Europe, which ended when he established his studio in New York City in 1878, Chase demonstrated his extraordinary versatility, painting portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and genre scenes. His vigor as an artist was equaled by his long and successful career as a teacher: his classes at the Art Students League in New York and the Shinnecock Hills Summer School on Long Island attracted many students. In the mid-1880s, Chase embarked on a group of plein-air paintings inspired by New York's parks. Influenced by the brilliant colors and unorthodox compositional formats of the French Impressionists, he often countered a broad, comparatively empty foreground with a detailed background. In this painting, which probably depicts Brooklyn’s Tompkins Park, almost half the canvas is filled by the wide, empty walkway, which, with its strong diagonal borders, carries the eye into the composition. This swift movement into space is slowed by the woman on the bench, who appears to gaze expectantly toward someone approaching along the path. To the left, colorful flowers provide a contrast to the bare walk at the right. This informal, seemingly spontaneous work, capturing the sparkle, light, and activity of a summer day, testifies to the freshness and vitality that Chase brought to the painting of such scenes.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Rochester Art Club, Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Rochester Art Club, May 22-June 2, 1888, cat. 10, as A City Park, lent by William Merritt Chase.

Paris, Exposition Universelle, May 5-October 31, 1889, cat. 49, as Un Parc de Ville, lent by William Merritt Chase.

New York City, Fifth Avenue Art Galleries, Auction of Paintings by William Merritt Chase, March 6, 1891, cat. 31, as A City Park.

Southampton, New York, Parish Art Museum, William Merritt Chase in the Company of Friends, May 13-June 24, 1979, cat. 8, as A City Park.

Seattle, University of Washington, Henry Art Gallery, William Merritt Chase Retrospective, October 2, 1983-January 29, 1984; traveled to Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 9-June 3, 1984, no cat.

Norfolk, Virginia, Chrysler Museum of Art, Paris 1889: American Artists at the Universal Exposition, September 29-December 17, 1989; traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, February 1-April 15, 1990, Memphis, Brooks Museum of Art, May 6-July 15, 1990, New York Historical Society, September 5-November 15, 1990, cat. 49.

Brooklyn Museum of Art, "William Merritt Chase: Modern American Landscapes, 1886-1890," May 26-August 13, 2000; traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, September 7-November 26, 2000, Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, December 13, 2000-March 11, 2001, cat. 1.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920, February 12-May 24, 2015; traveled to Norfolk, Chrysler Museum, June 16-September 6, 2015; Winston-Salem, Reynolda House, October 1, 2015-January 3, 2016 (Philadelphia and Norfolk only) cat. 35.

Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection, William Merritt Chase, A Modern Master, June 4-September 11, 2016; travels to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, October 9, 2016-January 16, 2017; Venice, Ca' Pesaro-Galleria Internazionale d'Arte Moderna, February 11-May 28, 2017 (D.C. and Boston only), cat. 32.

Publication History

M.G. Van Rensselaer, “William Merritt Chase,” American Art Review 2 (1881), pp. 91-98.

Montezuma, “My Notebook,” Art Amateur 18, 2 (Jan. 1888), p. 28.

Keon Cox, “William M. Chase, Painter,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 78, 466 (Mar. 1889), pp. 549-57.

“Mr. Chase’s Pictures,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 15, 1889.

Charles DeKay, “Mr. Chase and Central Park,” Harper’s Weekly 35, 17 (May 2, 1891), pp. 327-28.

“The Slaughter of Mr. Chase’s Pictures,” Art Amateur 24, 5 (Apr. 1891), pp. 115-16.

A.E. Ives, “Suburban Sketching Grounds,” Art Amateur 25, 4 (Sept. 1891), pp. 80-82.

James William Pattison, “An Art Lover’s Collection,” Fine Arts Journal 28 (Feb. 1913), pp. 99-111.

Katharine Metcalf Roof. The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917).

Abraham David Milgrome, The Art of William Merritt Chase (Ph.D. Diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1969).

Ronald G. Pisano, William Merritt Chase (Watson-Guptill Publications, 1969).

Keith L. Bryant, Jr., William Merritt Chase: A Genteel Bohemian (University of Missouri Press, 1991).

David Schuyler and Jane Turner Censer, eds., The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted: The Years of Olmsted, Vaux and Company 1865-1874 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), vol. 6.

Ronald G. Pisano, Summer Afternoons: Landscape Paintings of William Merritt Chase (Little, Brown, and Company, 1993).

William H. Gerdts, Impressionist New York (Abbeville Press, 1994).

Barbara Weinberg et al., American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885-1915 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994).

Barbara Dayer Gallati, William Merritt Chase (Harry N. Abrams Publishers, 1995).

Judith A. Barter et al., American Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago: From Colonial Times to World War I (Art Institute of Chicago, 1998) pp. 250-52, no. 121.

Stanley Meisler, Smithsonian Magazine (Feb. 2001).

Judith A. Barter et al, The Age of American Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2011), no. 76.

"Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Highlights of the Collection," (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2017) p. 60.

Ownership History

William Merritt Chase, New York, from 1887 to 1891; Renaissance Gallery, Philadelphia, by 1950; Graham Gallery, New York City, 1950; Dr. John Jay Ireland, Chicago, 1956; bequeathed to The Art Institute of Chicago, 1968.

Interpretive Resources

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