William Merritt Chase's interiors have been repeatedly acknowledged as some of the finest accomplishments of American Impressionism. The collector Duncan Phillips, for instance, praised their evocative qualities, "Whether it is the sumptuous splendor of a Venetian palace, shades from the summer sun, or just a perspective of rooms, in which one would like to live, the charm of a Chase interior is immediate. It is more than a trick of cool light on reflecting surfaces, mahogany table-tops and hard wood floors. It is the hint of once familiar moments long forgotten, a sentiment of the quiet dignity of a patrician home." (as quoted in R. Pisano, William Merritt Chase, New York, 1982, p. 64)
Late in his career William Merritt Chase traveled frequently throughout Europe, and around 1910 he purchased the Villa Silli, a fifteenth-century manse located outside of Florence. During his years there, Chase conducted his painting classes and often entertained fellow artists, including Irving Wiles and James Carroll Beckwith, who described the villa as "perfectly beautiful" and in fact had encouraged Chase to purchase it. A Memory: In the Italian Villa captures the artist's love of the light and color of the Italian countryside, hinted at by the glimpse of his garden through the doorway and his principal subject matter over his entire career--the female figure.
Combining Chase's work as an artist of landscapes and interiors, A Memory: In the Italian Villa most likely depicts the principal sitting room in the Villa Silli, which was set on the side of a hill and had a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Nearby were an olive grove, pomegranate trees, an old cypress tree, as well as an orangerie. In addition, the villa's garden included an impressive oleander bush that stood eight feet tall and provided lavish bouquets. Chase furnished the interior of the villa with a variety of Italian antiques, which included gilded furniture in the main sitting room and highly glazed tile floors.
Chase arranged the composition of A Memory: In the Italian Villa to evoke the villa's old world charm. Outside, brilliant Mediterranean light shines on the garden. Inside, it reflects off the glazed floor and illuminates the face of an elegant, seated woman with her head to the side looking toward the open door. Her poise and grace add a note of refinement to the charming rusticity of the villa. The strong sun provides a counterpoint to the coolness, subdued hues and soft light of the interior, evoking the quiet and refined lifestyle of many American expatriates at the turn of the century, and in particular Chase's consistent interest in the more refined moments of domestic life.
Grace and elegance inspired Chase and lie at the heart of his most successful compositions, such as A Memory: In the Italian Villa. It is as if Chase had sought to recreate a quiet and serene memory, as he suggests with his title, outside the bustle and attentions of his public life. He brings together in a single composition his passion for garden imagery, interiors, still life and the female figure to create near the end of his career an artistic summary of his lifetime achievement in the arts.