American, 1849 - 1916
William Merritt Chase was born in the town of Williamsburg (later Ninevah), Indiana, on November 1, 1849, the oldest of the six children of Sarah Swaim Chase and her husband, David Hester Chase. The family moved to Indianapolis when Chase was twelve years old. His father hoped that he would follow him into the women's shoe business, but Chase, who said "the desire to draw was born in me," resisted his father's commercial ambitions for his own artistic ones. His artistic training began in 1867 with the Indianapolis artist Barton S. Hays, followed two years later with study at the National Academy of Design in New York with Lemuel P. Wilmarth. In 1871 he moved to St. Louis, where he painted still lifes professionally. He attracted the attention of local patrons, who, in the fall of 1872, offered to send him abroad to further his education. He chose to study at the Royal Academy in Munich, and it was the most decisive part of his artistic training. Chase was one of a sizable group of Americans studying in Munich, one that included Frank Duveneck and later John Twachtman.
After an extended visit to Venice with Duvenck and Twachtman in 1878, Chase returned to New York, where he began teaching at the newly-founded Art Students' League. He devoted much of his time and energy to teaching--at, in addition to the League, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Shinnecock Summer School of Art and New York School of Art, both of which he founded--and was the most celebrated teacher of his time. As a leader of the insurgent younger painters who challenged the authority of the National Academy of Design, he was a founding member of the Society of American Artists and, in 1880, was elected its president. His large, sumptuously decorated studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, which he took soon after his return to New York, was the most famous artist's studio in America and a virtual manifesto of his and his generation's artistic practices and beliefs, and of the dignity of the artistic calling.
In 1886 he married Alice Gerson, who was frequently his subject (in the NGA's painting A Friendly Call, for instance), as were their many children. Chase painted a wide range of subjects, figures, landscapes and cityscapes, studio interiors, still lifes, and, increasingly later in life, portraits, and he worked with equal brilliance in oil and pastel. Chase died in New York City in 1916. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]