This portrait depicts Florence Irene Dimock, the daughter of a Connecticut silk merchant, but it also expresses Chase’s conception of refinement. He placed Dimock in a formal setting, gave her flamboyant studio props and depicted her with an air of seriousness that by all accounts did not match her fun-loving personality. His inspiration for the courtly style and dynamic painting technique of this work was the art of seventeenth-century Spanish painter Diego Velasquez, whose works Chase admired while studying in Europe.
William Merritt Chase Girl in White, around 1901 Collection of the Akron Art Museum The late nineteenth and early twentieth century was a period of immense social and economic change in the United States. As this country's industrial base grew and vast personal fortunes were made, many of the newly prosperous turned to the arts to signify their status. Portraits found new favor among the affluent¬, particularly imposing likenesses in the grand manner that had long been the mark of wealth and class in Europe. When around 1901 the well-established Hartford silk merchant Ira Dimock commissioned William Merritt Chase to paint a large formal portrait of his daughter Florence Irene (1888–1962) to adorn the staircase of his stately Connecticut residence, his decision was not unusual for a man of his means.1 Dimock chose wisely. The fifty-two-year-old artist was a formidable figure in the art world, with a reputation matched by few of his contemporaries. Chase’s exceptional talent was recognized when he was still a young man. In 1871, after studying briefly in New York at the National Academy of Design, he returned to his family, then living in St. Louis. Several local businessmen sensed his unusual ability and gave him the funds to study at the Royal Academy of Art in Munich. While a student there, he won a medal at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Success followed success. During the 1880s and 1890s there were few important art exhibitions in which Chase was not invited to participate and few in which he was not singled out for critical praise. An ebullient personality who was well-liked by his fellow artists, Chase was an integral part of the social and political milieu fundamental to the art world of the time. He was a pivotal figure in numerous artists' organizations, including the Society of American Artists, formed in the late 1870s to show art that was more avant-garde than that displayed at the annual National Academy of Design exhibitions. A frequent traveler abroad, Chase also established friendships with expatriates John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler as well as numerous distinguished European artists. Chase taught, too—at the Art Students League, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and at his own schools in New York City in the winter and on Long Island at Shinnecock during the summer. He earned the admiration of a large number of his students. It was through classes taken with Chase that Irene's older sister and the Dimock family first came to know the renowned artist.2 Girl in White brings together numerous characteristics of Chase's mature painting style. Beginning in the mid-1880s, he repeatedly and with great success filled his canvas with a full-length standing figure set against a subtly modulated background. Whistler's influence is evident in Chase's composition and his concern with tonal nuances. His sensuous, free-flowing brushstrokes reflect his longstanding admiration for the technique of Franz Hals, a seventeenth-century Dutch painter, and Diego Velázquez, Hals's Spanish peer. Chase loved the elegant and the beautiful: his studio was known for its abundance of luxurious textiles, metal objects, and elaborate furniture. The care and attention he gave to Irene Dimock's white silk and lace dress and black feather hat attest to his fascination with luscious and sumptuous objects. A nephew subsequently claimed that the formality of Chase's portrait of Irene belied his aunt's "madcap" nature. The subject and her family, however, seem to have understood that Chase selected the rather fanciful and theatrical pose "with an idea of its ultimate value as a work of art, rather than a portrait."3 - Carolyn Kinder Carr, 2001 1. The painting was dated 1898 by Mrs. William Merritt Chase on the reverse of a photograph, but Edith Dimock Glackens in a January 26, 1923, letter to William Macbeth dates the painting to 1901. From the appearance of the sitter, it is more likely that she was thirteen rather than ten. All correspondence related to this painting can be found in the Edwin C. Shaw Papers, Akron Art Museum archives. 2. This older sister, Edith Louise Dimock, later married painter William Glackens (1870–1938). 3. Letter from Ira Glackens to Carolyn Kinder Carr, January 28, 1982, Akron Art Museum archives; letter from Edith Dimock Glackens to William Macbeth, January 26, 1923, Edwin C. Shaw Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Carr, Carolyn Kinder. William Merritt Chase: Portraits. Akron: Akron Art Museum, 1982. Gallatti, Barbara Dayer. William Merritt Chase. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995. Pisano, Ronald. William Merritt Chase 1849–1916: A Leading Spirit in American Art. Seattle: Henry Art Gallery, 1983. Roof, Katherine Metcalf. The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1975. Roof, Katherine Metcalf. The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase. New York: Scribner, 1917. Reprint, New York: Hacker Art Books, 1975.
Signed "Wm M Chase" LL