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On view


Artist: William Merritt Chase (American, 1849 - 1916)

Date: 1885 or 1886
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall: 50 1/2 x 37in. (128.3 x 94cm)
Framed: 59 1/4 x 46 x 3 3/4in. (150.5 x 116.8 x 9.5cm)
Signed: Above table: "Wm. M. Chase"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 57.305
Label Text
William Merritt Chase believed Americans were a new people in a new country, "of European stock, but which no longer resembles it." Memories recalls the spirit of a new era and the modern woman. Appearing without the restricting corseted waist that creates a contrived hourglass shape, the figure is the epitome of the feminine. Strikingly, the upper half of the figure has a slightly androgynous appeal. The clean lines of the blouse and the hair pulled back complement her natural beauty. The colors, although spare, are strategic. In the background pink and yellow hues of a fan and perhaps a shawl pick up the rose on the model's face, attributes of the feminine without overstatement. What her dress lacks in elaboration it gains in it's luminous appearance delicately painted with brushstrokes that reaffirm the relaxed nature of a woman who embodies all the allure of unexplored modernity.

Sandra Vázquez
Diversity Intern, 1997

Text Entries

Commenting on what he believed to be an identifiably American character, William Merritt Chase maintained: “We are a new people in a new country. Watch the crowds along Picadilly or the Champs Elysées you spot the Americans among them almost as easily as if they wore our flag in their buttonholes. It means that already a new type has appeared, the offspring, as we know, of European stock, but which no longer resembles it.”(1) The model Chase portrayed in his painting Memories and the manner in which he presented her provide a visual means of under- standing this “new type,” as well as proof of Chase’s dexterity and technical skill as a painter.(2)

Unlike the American expatriate painters John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, with whom Chase’s own paintings have often been justifiably compared, Chase decided to return to America after completing his studies abroad in 1878. Once home, he devoted his efforts to painting American subjects and themes—simple urban and country scenes painted in and nearby his homes in New York City and on Long Island. His models, often family, friends, or students, were generally of the upper middle class, like Chase himself. They were prosperous, yet sensible, and Chase depicted them unselfconsciously enjoying leisure moments, either indoors or in the open air. Described by one contemporary writer as a “human camera,” Chase captured in a most candid and spontaneous manner the life of genteel America at the turn of the century.(3) As a consummate painter and one of the prime spokesmen for the aesthetic movement in America, he accomplished his task with obvious grace and ease as evidenced in his painting Memories.

The subject for Chase’s painting is a young, sensitive, unadorned woman—almost plain when compared to Whistler’s ethereal maidens or Sargent’s society women. She is more formidable than similar subjects painted by Whistler, and more natural and relaxed in pose when compared to the more formal portraits painted by Sargent, such as his Lady with the Rose (Metropolitan Museum of Art). In his painting Memories Chase has portrayed an intelligent and well-bred individual who can appreciate the aesthetic value of the artwork she holds in her hand, a connoisseur posed in front of a table strewn with similar works of art. Her expression conveys the deep pleasure she derives from this experience; and the title of the painting, Memories, suggests that this experience evokes the remembrance of a similarly pleasurable moment in her life-perhaps a visit to one of the great art museums of Europe, or a visit to a local gallery. By deliberately making the painting suggestive rather than literal, Chase has engaged the viewer to take part in completing the story in his or her own mind.

The image Chase has presented in this work is nostalgic enough to arouse our interest and to evoke a sympathetic response, without being overly sweet or “poetic.” The colors he selected and the way in which he used them are equally striking—the palette is limited, but dramatic. Chase contrasted the white of the woman’s dress, as well as the prints or drawings on the table and in her hand, against the black background, creating a bold image relieved only by the delicate and lyrical pastel pink of a fan on the table and the golden yellow of what appears to be a shawl also on the tabletop. Foremost in Chase’s mind while painting this work was his concern in capturing varying degrees of reflected light—the strong direct light reflected off the objects on the table; the diffused light reflected off the woman’s gauzy overskirt; and finally, and most importantly, the backlight illuminating her face and reflected offthe print held in her hand.

Painted in 1885 or 1886, Memories made its debut in Chase’s first one-man exhibition held at the Boston Art Club in the fall of 1886. The show was described as “the sensation of the month in art circles.”(4) One critic, responding to the figure studies in the exhibition, maintained in “play of light and shade and contrast, he is unsurpassed.” The same critic commended Chase for his “seemingly unconscious or accidental grace of line in female costume and making it play a part in revealing the characteristic lines in the wearer’s personality.” In summary, he declared that Chase was “emphatically of his day and an interpreter of his day in art.”(5) It is likely that Memories was one of the works that inspired such favorable and insightful comments; and undoubtedly it was partially responsible for another critic’s assessment of this exhibition, “it is upon just such work as this that we can safely base our hopes for art in America.“(6)



1. William M. Chase, “The Import of Art: An Interview with Walter Pach,” The Outlook, vol. 95 (June 25, 1910), p. 442.

2. The original title, Memories, appeared in an article which described the work: “The William M. Chase Exhibition,“ Art Amateur, vol. 16, no. 5 (April 1887), p. 100.

3. Kenyon Cox, “William M. Chase, Painter,” Harpers New Monthly Magazine, vol. 78 (March 1889). p. 556.

4. “The Chase Exhibition,” American Art Illustrator (December 1886), p. 99.

5. Ibid.

6. “A Boston Estimate of a New York Painter,” The Art Interchange, vol. 17 (December 4., 1886), p.


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