William Merritt Chase, The Young Orphan
42 x 44 in.
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) was an American painter and teacher. He founded the Chase School, which later became the Parsons School of Design. Chase is considered an Impressionist, but unlike other prominent American Impressionists (such as Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, and Lila Cabot Perry), he did not spend a significant amount of time in France, instead studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Chase is probably best known for his portraits, including many prominent men and women of his time. He also did many landscapes, often of places he frequented, such as Prospect Park and Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, where he had a school and summer home. The Young Orphan is undated, but was exhibited in 1884. The model was likely found at an Orphan Asylum near Chase's studio. However when the piece was exhibited overseas, Chase chose the less provocative title of At Her Ease. The piece is also known simply as Study of a Young Girl. It is hard to say which is more intense in this painting–the vast expanse of red or the piercing look in the girl's eyes. The red wall and chair make an imposing setting for this young girl dressed in black. The expression on her face is very complex, as her eyes seem sad and pleading, but also warm and inviting. There is also perhaps a suggestion that the girl is in ill health, seen in the way she is reclining as though unable to hold up her body, and she is holding a handkerchief in her right hand, which to my mind suggests she has tuberculosis and is constantly coughing. Whether illness is literally present in the painting or not, the work does have a sad quality overall, as the girl becomes enveloped by this sea of red.