National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
American Impressionism and Realism

The Fairy Tale
William Merritt Chase, 1849 - 1916
1892, oil on canvas, 16 1/2 x 24 (41.9 x 61), Collection of Margaret and Raymond Horowitz

Each summer for eleven years, beginning in 1891, William Merritt Chase taught classes in outdoor painting at Shinnecock, on the eastern end of Long Island near the village of Southampton. During those summers Chase and his family lived in a large, comfortable house designed by Chase's friend, the architect Stanford White, in the starkly beautiful Shinnecock hills. There Chase made many of his best and most beautiful pictures.

By his own design, Chase was the most conspicuously public artistic figure of his time. In the years following his return from Europe in 1878 he campaigned tirelessly in the cause of art. For the instruction of his countrymen, Chase made himself the example, the public impersonation, of his ideal of art. Performer, politician, polemicist, and publicist, he "carried the banner and announced that art had come to town."1 And in his best paintings of the 1880s he had painted public and social spaces, Central Park in New York and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. But in the 1890s, after his marriage in 1886, and particularly during his summers at Shinnecock, his art became increasingly private and centered around the pleasures of domestic life.

Most of Chase's Shinnecock paintings were located within the house and studio or in the landscape closely surrounding it. These pictures depict his wife and children enjoying the sun's warmth and cooling sea breezes, and engaged in the pastimes of summer, gathering flowers in the fields and shells on the beach, reading, strolling, exploring. The mood is inescapably idyllic. In The Fairy Tale, even the title evokes the painting's magical, enchanted ideality.

Since the Horowitzes acquired it in 1969, The Fairy Tale has become the signature painting of their collection.

Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr.
Senior curator of American and British paintings

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Notes

1. John C. Van Dyck, American Painting and Its Tradition (New York, 1919), 188. The phrase is taken from another notoriously conspicuous public figure, Chase's one-time friend James McNeill Whistler, who, in his 1888 Ten O'Clock lecture said: "Art is upon the Town! to be chucked under the chin by the passing gallant to be enticed with the gates of the householder to be coaxed into company, as a proof of culture and refinement." In The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (London, 1892), 135.