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collections > permanent collection > paintings >WILLIAM MERRITT CHASE
William Merritt Chase
(American, 1849-1916)
Max Bensil, 1912
Oil on canvas, 24” x 21”
Anonymous gift in honor of Michael Strueber (98.075)


William Merritt Chase was a renowned portraitist and gifted teacher.  Replacing the hard-edged, wooden portrait style that had prevailed in the United States for much of the Victorian era, Chase infused his canvases with a dash and verve that had not been seen since the days of Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Sully.  In portraits such as Max Bensil, fluid and seemingly impulsive brushstrokes convey vibrant energy while the fashionably dark background (derived from the artist’s training in Munich), lends a sense of intimacy to the work.  The pronounced contrast of light and shadow adds a touch of drama as well, and focuses the viewer on the expressively large eyes and high forehead of this handsome young man.


Chase was born in Williamsburg (now Nineveh), Indiana, and received early training at the hands of local artists in Indianapolis.  His natural talent led to further studies at the National Academy of Design in New York City, and after two years of instruction, he departed for Europe, arriving in Munich in 1872.  Advancing further under the tutelage of Royal Academy professor Karl von Piloty, Chase emerged as one of the most promising contemporary portraitists working on either side of the Atlantic.  His reputation preceded his return to the United States, and after settling into a studio in New York, he took his place as one of the city’s most successful and influential artists.  Founding schools at Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, and in New York City, Chase also taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  His charismatic personality and encouragement of artistic experimentation inspired many younger artists, including Charles Demuth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Joseph Stella, and others who formed the ranks of the first American avant-garde.