William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
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Property from the Robert and Nettie Benenson Foundation

A Girl in Yellow (The Yellow Gown)

A Girl in Yellow (The Yellow Gown)
pastel on paper laid down on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm.)
Executed circa 1900.
The artist.
Estate of the above.
American Art Galleries, New York, The Completed Pictures, Studies and Sketches Left by the Late William Merritt Chase, N.A., 14-17 May 1917, lot 266, sold by the above.
Alfred Rose, New York, acquired from the above.
Schweitzer Gallery, New York.
Edward Benenson, New York, acquired from the above, 1974.
Estate of the above.
Donation to the present owner from the above.
"Paintings Sold at Auction: 1916-1917," American Art Annual, vol. 14, 1917, p. 345.
John Herron Art Museum, "Check List of Known Works by William Merritt Chase," Chase Centennial Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1949, n.p.
R.G. Pisano, William Merritt Chase: The Paintings in Pastel, Monotypes, Painted Tiles and Ceramic Plates, Watercolors, and Prints, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 44, no. P.98, illustrated.
(Possibly) Syracuse, New York, Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, n.d.
(Possibly) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, McGlees Gallery, Exhibition of the Works of William Merritt Chase, March 1905, no. 29.
Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Museum of Art, Selected Works from the Benenson Collection: An Exhibition of Works from the Private Art Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Edward H. Benenson, 1976, n.p., illustrated.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

William Merritt Chase has often been described as a painter’s painter, typified in his artistic style by a profound attentiveness to his medium and an interest in the formal qualities of painting. Perhaps more so than any other genre, Chase’s portraiture exemplifies his status as such an artist, and the present painting, A Girl in Yellow (The Yellow Gown), is no exception. Executed in rich, velvety pastel, A Girl in Yellow (The Yellow Gown) exemplifies the artist’s ability to move “beyond creating mere realistic likenesses to capture his subjects’ vitality, character, and spirit.” (L.B. Fiser, William Merritt Chase: Family Portraits, exhibition catalogue, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, 2011, p. 12) With a casual pose full of personality, including a defiant tilt of the chin and daring eye contact, Chase celebrates the individuality of his sitter as she poses in an eye-catching yellow gown amidst warm, sumptuous surroundings.

As embodied by the present work, Erica E. Hirshler writes, “Chase repeatedly promoted this distinctly modern American woman. His female subjects are ready for the ride, ready for a walk, ready now, and about to come in; they peruse in the studio, stroll in the park; they meet and match the viewer’s gaze…With a cloak of tradition, Chase vested his new women with power, reinforcing their vivid engagement with the world.” (“Old Masters Meet New Women,” William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2016, p. 27) Indeed, the sitter’s confidence in herself is palpable as she meets the viewer’s eye in a spirited fashion.

Beyond his modern approach to portraiture, Chase’s connection to the artistic happenings in Europe was significant in establishing him as an artist of prominence in America. Chase studied abroad at the Royal Academy in Munich, where he learned the dark, bravura manner of the Old Masters. There, and during later travels to Spain, Paris and Holland, he developed his signature style incorporating bold, vivacious strokes with meticulous attention to composition and color variations. One critic in 1890 wrote of Chase’s skill at “blending indistinguishably the influences of old and new schools of painting,” declaring his style in this regard to be distinctly American. (as quoted in D. Scott Atkinson, N. Cikovsky, Jr., William Merritt Chase: Summers at Shinnecock 1891-1902, Washington, D.C., 1987, p. 21) Indeed, Chase’s decision to return to the United States following his time abroad was fully intended as a move toward creating an American school of painting, one that looked to Europe for direction, but that would eventually become its own unique form of expression. As Chase himself wrote, “I was young, American art was young; I had faith in it.” (as quoted in R. Pisano, William Merritt Chase, exhibition catalogue, Southampton, New York, 1976, p. 35) Chase’s A Girl in Yellow (The Yellow Gown) exemplifies the successful amalgamation of all that was admired and acclaimed in late nineteenth-century portraiture—a fusion executed with painterly proficiency, as only an American artist could.

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