William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
Property from the Collection of Mona Biddle Dick Wilson
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)

Mona, Daughter of Mrs. R.

William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
Mona, Daughter of Mrs. R.
oil on canvas
32 x 24½ in. (81.3 x 62.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1894.
The sitter.
By descent to the present owner.
R.G. Pisano, William Merritt Chase: Portraits in Oil, vol. 2, New Haven, Connecticut, 2006, p. 119, no. OP.217, illustrated.
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, Paintings by William Merritt Chase, 1897, no. 56.
New York, New York Society of American Artists, Annual Exhibition, 1898, no. 42.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 67th Annual Exhibition, January 10-February 22, 1898, no. 69 (as Mona).
New York, National Academy of Design, Loan Exhibition of Portraits for the Benefit of the Orthopedic Hospital, 1899, no. 66.

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Lot Essay

In 1890, William Merritt Chase accepted an invitation to join Mrs. William S. Hoyt at her home in Shinnecock, on the eastern end of Long Island. Chase's arrival at Shinnecock coincided closely with the commercial development of the region and a booklet published by the Long Island Railroad described the place and the state of its development at this time: "it is hardly possible to imagine a more desirable location for a summer residence. The land is high, and from this rounded plateau one looks down upon one of the finest marine views on the Atlantic coast. The ocean, flecked with sails, is before, while behind, the winding waters of Peconic Bay, with the intermingling shores, give infinite variety of scene. Art has added to Nature's charms in the cottages that have been erected, representing the quaint English architecture of the period of Queen Anne." (as quoted in D.S. Atkinson, William Merritt Chase: Summers at Shinnecock, Washington, D.C., 1987 p. 16)

Once Chase arrived at Shinnecock, he became acquainted with Samuel Parrish and Mrs. Henry Kirke Porter, who eventually convinced him to join in their efforts to start the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art, which soon became known as the strongest in the country. The works that Chase produced in Shinnecock Hills have been repeatedly acknowledged as some of the finest accomplishments of American Impressionism. Having learned to paint in a direct and spontaneous manner from Frank Duveneck in Munich, Chase developed his signature style incorporating bold, vivacious strokes with meticulous attention to composition and color variations. At Shinnecock, he developed his style even further, producing innovative landscapes and superb portraits including Mona, Daughter of Mrs. R. The present work exemplifies Chase's lively and colorful style with sweeping brushstrokes highlighted with dashes of color as well as the artist's sophisticated taste and keen eye for composition.

Considered one of the preeminent portraitists of his time, Chase was often approached by prestigious families and commissioned to paint portraits of family members. This superb portrait depicts Lydia Spencer Moncure Robinson, known as Mona, the daughter of a prominent railroad magnate. According to Ronald Pisano, "Mona and her mother, Mrs. W. Moncure Robinson, traveled to Shinnecock, Long Island, probably in the summer of 1894 to have the former's portrait painted by Chase...The Robinsons seem to have left the portrait in Chase's possession so that he could exhibit it in 1897 at his solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as several times in 1898." (William Merritt Chase: Portraits in Oil, vol. 2, New Haven, Connecticut, 2006, p. 119) The fact that Chase retained Mona, Daughter of Mrs. R. in order to exhibit the painting demonstrates the exceptionally high regard that the artist had for this work.

Having diverse, cosmopolitan taste and a sophisticated aesthetic, Chase was drawn to various decorative arts and objects, a plethora of which he kept in his New York and Shinnecock studios, often incorporating them into paintings. His interest in tapestries, such as the one in the present work, was cultivated by his relationship with his student, Dora Wheeler, whom he painted in 1883 and who was a textile embroider and daughter of Candace Wheeler, owner of the well respected decorative firm, Associated Artists. Chase also shared an adoration of Asian decorative arts and costume with his friend and fellow artist, James McNeill Whistler. Indeed, the composition and harmonious tonalities of Mona, Daughter of Mrs. R. are reminiscent of the work of the famous ex-patriot with whom Chase worked in 1885.

In the present portrait, Chase portrays Mona, a beautiful young girl, in three-quarter length, looking pensively at the viewer. Her composure and elegance are indicative of her social class, while the beautiful kimono that she wears and the tapestry that she is set against are reflections of Chase's exotic interests. The work is highly finished and more restrained than the instructive portraits that the artist would execute on the spot for his students. Indeed, each aspect of the superb portrait is carefully composed to create a visual symphony of tonal harmonies. Chase adeptly modulates various tones of beige in the background in order to set off the pinks of the kimono, which he highlights with energetic strokes of white. These light strokes and the wide, white obi that Mona wears around her waist act as foils for the girl's long, dark braids and black bows, creating a tonal drama. He also characteristically uses linear movement and blocks of shape, such as the wide sleeve of the kimono and thick obi juxtaposed with these gracefully sinuous braids.

Mona, Daughter of Mrs. R. is exemplary not only of the characteristics that were typical of Chase's work during this period, but also of those that accounted for his acclaim as one of the greatest painters of his time. Chase has masterfully imbued this portrait with a timeless elegance.

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