American
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William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916),
Sunlight and Shadow , 1884
oil on canvas, 65¼ x 77¾, 165.74 x 194.3 cm
Gift of the Friends of Art, 1932.4
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The career of William Merritt Chase is very much a model for progressive American artists of the period. He spent as much time abroad as he did in his native land, and when at home was a tireless promoter of new art through the organization of various art societies. His activities did much to bring art in America out of its deep provinciality.

In 1872, following three years of study at the National Academy of Design in New York, Chase entered the Munich Royal Academy. From there he traveled Europe and established his reputation by successfully exhibiting in London and Munich as well as in New York. By the time he returned to the United States, he was already well known.

Sunlight and Shadow was painted in Zandvort, Holland, where Chase stayed the summer with his artist friend Robert Blum (the model for the seated man). A turning point in Chase’s career, the picture is a subtle balance of Impressionist-inspired observation and implied storytelling. The man fiddles nervously with a teacup and cigarette; the woman in the hammock peeks over her shoulder and looks out at the viewer as if involving us in this unknown psychological drama. That the painting was originally called The Tiff by the artist may confirm this kind of interpretation, but unlike many nineteenth-century painters of narrative subjects, Chase is clearly more interested in the naturalism expressed in the title under which he exhibited it shortly before his death: Sunlight and Shadow.

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