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Snite Showcases Acclaimed Indiana Native

Meeghan Conroy | Monday, February 16, 2004

The sum of a man’s life is ultimately the stories that he leaves behind for others to hear. In the case of painters, their stories are seen and not heard. An artist tells his or her story and offers a brief window into who they were by drawing the viewer into their art. He or she is commonly judged by the vivid way they are able to create a world and share that world with others.One individual who strove to preserve man’s daily life and surroundings was William Merrit Chase. Chase expressed the identity of Americans through his impressionist paintings. Critics hailed Chase’s ability to allow his audience to connect and identify with the work. For the viewer, a park scene became the park down the street, children playing in the fields became their own children and a harbor became their latest vacation spot. The audience is drawn into his work through their own experiences. William Merrit Chase was born in Nineveh, Indiana in 1849. He grew up in Indianapolis, where he trained with Barton Hays as a teenager. Hays quickly recognized Chase’s talent, and sent him to New York to study. From New York, Chase continued to Munich in 1872 to study at the Royal Academy. After six years of intensive study, Chase returned to New York where he resided and worked for the rest of his life. Chase was a true New York cosmopolitan. Downtown, his elaborate studio served as an office, gallery and a center for other artists and socialites. Chase was well known in the social scene. However, he was also a devoted father and husband of eight children. Chase often included his family in his paintings, as may be seen in ‘Shinnecock Hills, Long Island’.At the Snite, four of Chase’s oil paintings are on display. The first three, “Shinnecock Hills, Long Island” (1895), “Summer Time (Pulling for Shore)” (1886), and “Wash Day (Washing Day-A Backyard Reminiscence)” (1886), offer glimpses into the daily activities of nineteenth-century Americans. His use of varied brush stroke and soft color creates dramatic light and perspectives, bringing the subjects to life. The audience can familiarize with the ‘normal’ scenes and activities, often overlooked in their own lives. The last painting in the collection is a still life, “Peonies” (1903). This piece exhibits one of Chase’s greatest challenges: flowers. Although more than one hundred of Chase’s works were still lifes, very few were flowers because of the technical difficulties they posed. This piece demonstrates his exceptional talent with calculated brush strokes and colors that evoke the beauty of nature and its transience.The Lily Endowment Collection, a private philanthropy agency in Indianapolis, made this exhibit possible. The agency strives to support the community, education, and religion of its hometown and state. Thanks to the agency, Chase’s work may be preserved as part of Indiana’s heritage. The public is welcome to see the collection at the Snite through May 16.