William Merritt Chase

(Nineveh, Indiana, 1849 - 1916, New York, New York)


c. 1904–1914

Oil on canvas

29 1/4 x 36 1/4 in. (74.4 x 92.2 cm)

Collection of the Akron Art Museum

Bequest of Edwin C. Shaw


More Information

William Merritt Chase was a renowned landscape, portrait, and still life painter, teacher and arts leader. Many of his fish still lifes were painted late in his career, often as demonstrations for his students. For his fish studies, Chase favored the dark colors and bravura brushwork he had adopted while studying at the Royal Academy in Munich in the 1870s. This style reflects the artist’s admiration for the 17th-century Dutch and Spanish art he encountered in Europe. 'Cod' typifies Chase’s approach in its arrangement of different varieties of fish in front of a large copper bowl that reflects the studio interior, including the artist at his easel. In 'Cod', Chase’s glistening highlights and vibrant paint quality transform dead fish into objects of beauty. The artist acknowledged his affinity for such subjects, commenting: I enjoy painting fishes; in the infinite variety of these creatures, the Subtle and exquisitely colored tones of the flesh fresh from the water, the way their surfaces reflect the light, I take the greatest pleasure. In painting a good composition of fish, I am painting for myself.

Chase was, for many years, the most renowned painter of fish in America. In 1915 it was reported that Chase had even “devoted one of his four studios in New York entirely to the painting of fish.”[1] 'Cod' give ample evidence of Chase’s ability to render with striking realism the slippery, malleable texture of their rubbery bodies and the many-colored reflections glistening off their cold, moist surfaces. The artist also heightened the slight squeamishness of the subject by strategically placing a jarring, complementary red behind the greenish head of the fish, punctuating it for added effect with a staring yellow eyeball. More subtle silver-grays, browns, and even rose-colored tints are recorded on the underside of the fish. It is believed that Chase executed his first fish still life around 1877-78 while living in Venice with [Frank] Duveneck and [John Henry] Twachtman. Art historian William Gerdts has noted, however, that for the most part these works were “painted in his later years-the last decade of the nineteenth-century and the early years of the twentieth…”[2] Fish subjects constitute the single largest category of paintings in the artist’s oeuvre, but they are difficult to date because they show no discernable stylistic development. Chase may have painted fish primarily as technical experiments: they often contain unusual mixtures of oil, enamel house paint, siccative, and undiluted varnish. They may also have been produced as teaching exercises; he was known to award them to his students as prizes [3]. 'Cod' has four distinct levels of paint: a lead white ground, a continuous layer of red earth above the ground, a main design layer containing some slight impasto, and a top layer of transparent glazes. Some retouching is noticeable in the cod’s head. The artist’s fascination with this subject, to which he returned repeatedly, clearly indicates his disdain for hierarchies of subject matter. Above all else, Chase was a consummate craftsman who reveled in the manipulation of paint. Notes: [1] "Still Life - Fish, By Willian Chase," New York Herald, 27 June 1915. [2] William H. Gerdts, Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still Life 1801 - 1939 (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1981), pp. 212 - 213. Gerdts associates Chase's late still life with the nineteenth-century Chardin revival and especially the still lifes of Antoine Vallon. [3] David Abraham Milgrome, "The Art of William Merritt Chase" (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1969), vol. I, p. 80 - 82. Robinson, William et. al., The Edwin C. Shaw Collection of American Impressionist and Tonalist Painting. Akron: Akron Art Museum and New Haven, Connecticut: Eastern Press, 1986. p. 44.

Signed LL: "W M Chase"

Still Life