Research: Luce Center for American Art

Still Life, Fish
Accession #13.54
Artist William Merritt Chase
TitleStill Life, Fish
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions31 7/8 x 39 7/16 in. (81 x 100.2 cm)
SignedSigned lower left: "Wm M. Chase"
Credit LineJohn B. Woodward Memorial Fund
LocationAmerican Identities: Everyday Life / A Nation Divided

Curatorial Remarks: Late in his career, William Merritt Chase took to painting dramatic still lifes of fish, often staging the process as a demonstration or performance for students—in this case for his American students while in Bruges, Belgium, and for the Brooklyn Museum’s then-director William H. Fox, who recorded the artist’s bravura method for posterity. Drawing on his Munich training (in the 1870s), and its emphasis on the high tonal contrast and vigorous brushwork exemplified by Dutch and Spanish Baroque art, Chase painted quickly, “wet into wet” (brushing wet paint into wet paint), beginning with a base preparation of silvery white and blue tones. Identifying the brightest passage at the outset, Chase then worked up the darks and lights simultaneously. Here that bright area is the upturned belly of the skate, or ray, described with layer after layer of milky, tinted whites punctuated by the exuberant gestures of orange-red that suggest a bloody gash.