At the young age of eighteen, Irving Ramsey Wiles met William Merritt Chase, who would become his teacher, mentor and life-long friend. It was then, in 1879, that Wiles enrolled in the New York Art Students League under Chase. He studied in New York for two years, developing a solid foundation that supported him for the rest of his career. When Wiles first arrived in New York, Chase already occupied his famous studio in the main gallery of the Tenth Street Studio Building--the same space depicted by Wiles in the present work, Interior of William Merritt Chase's Tenth Street Studio.
Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the Tenth Street Studio Building was a facility which housed studios for some of the best known American artists of the nineteenth century. Students familiar with Chase's studio in the building recall, "a knock at Mr. Chase's door was the 'open sesame' to a magical change. A high studded room hung with tapestries and armour, and filled with beautiful carved furniture and rare old bric-a-brac, opened before us." (R.G. Pisano, William Merritt Chase: Leading Spirit in American Art, Seattle, Washington, 1983, p. 44) This unique space was the subject of many of Chase's finest works, and became one of the most celebrated spaces in New York for its splendor and for Chase's promotion of a new way of painting, Impressionism.
For Wiles, it is quite likely that he drew his inspiration for Interior of William Merritt Chase's Tenth Street Studio from both his teacher's earlier works and the space itself. Indeed, Wiles worked primarily in Chase's studio in 1882--this allowed him to become intimately familiar with the space, which he depicts here with painterly brushstrokes and a quick, dashing technique.
Oriental rugs, decorative vases, wall hangings and paintings filled the famous studio. These same objects surround the female figure seated on the sofa in Wiles' Interior of William Merritt Chase's Tenth Street Studio. The figure, with downward cast eyes, seems to be lost in contemplation. This is often the case in Wiles' portraits and demonstrates his propensity to place his figures within a well defined, solitary space. As the figure sits silently, the viewer wonders if she is waiting for someone. The easel placed carefully in the foreground with an artist's stool and palette indicate that she may be waiting for an artist to return--possibly even Chase. If that was Wiles' intention, he would have likely been paying tribute to his teacher and friend with this painting. Wiles' admiration for Chase and for the space he created is evident in his efforts to capture the true nature of the studio. The present painting, arguably one of Wiles' best works, would have been close to his heart.
Interior of William Merritt Chase's Tenth Street Studio exemplifies many of the Impressionist techniques Wiles developed while studying with Chase. The artist's use of wide, short brushstrokes and naturalistic color is reminiscent of Chase's well-known studio pictures. The varied use of color in the oriental carpet, frames and wall decorations emphasize the artist's skill with golds, reds and royal blues. Wiles' choice to highlight these elements against a darker background allows them to stand out from the shadows and act as small jewels on the canvas. This use of color is similar to Chase's works, further aligning Wiles with his mentor.
Chase maintained his space in the Tenth Street Studio Building until 1895, which coincided with the buildings decline. After Chase's death in 1919, those close to him recalled the profound respect he had for his former student, "A few days before his death, Chase was able to talk to only a few of his most intimate friends. When Irving Wiles visited him, in spite of his weakness, he sent to his studio for some canvases which he loved and which he wanted to show his painter friend." (Ala Story as quoted in William D. Paul, Jr., The Art of Irving Ramsey Wiles, Missouri, 1971, p. 14) This friendship was still significant to Wiles in 1924 when New York University Students asked him to formally present a bronze sculpture in memory of the artist. At the unveiling, Wiles thoughtfully stated: "On behalf of the committee, I take great pleasure in presenting to New York University, this memorial to William Merritt Chase, erected by his pupils, to be an everlasting tribute to his fame as a teacher and guide and consecrated to his memory for his great kindness as a friend to all of us." (William Merritt Chase, A Leading Spirit in American Art, p. 145)