William Merritt Chase was a well-respected painter and teacher in the 19th century.
In his later years, he became obsessed with painting his favorite subject: fish.
“I’ll be remembered as a painter of fish,” he once said.
David Park Curry, an authority on Chase, said during the time when Chase was painting fish, there was a waiting list of people and museums clamoring to buy them.
“Then he wasn’t remembered for that,” Curry said. “He is remembered as a landscape artist.”
Chase did 60-65 fish paintings from 1904-16. He died in 1916.
Curry is the senior curator of decorative arts, American painting and sculpture in the Baltimore Museum of Art.
He will be the speaker at the Columbus Museum’s 10th annual Rothschild Distinguished Speaker Series Thursday. He will be bringing a slide presentation that will show examples of Chase’s work.
His topic, “William Merritt Chase: A Little Fish Story,” will tell the story of how people’s tastes change.
“These paintings of fish were a must-have of contemporary art” in the early 1920s, Curry said. “By the time I came along, no one had ever heard of them.”
He thought that it was interesting to find out how tastes in art forms change over the years.
“I frequently meet colleagues who don’t like them (the fish paintings) at all.”
Curry said Chase is considered to be one of the “great American impressionist painters in our history of art. He is one of the greatest art teachers in the history of the United States. He had a huge impact on other American artists.
“He was a dapper gentleman and very cosmopolitan. He was extremely influential. His pictures are beautifully made and crafted.”
Any art historian who concentrates on work by such artists as James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent from the 19th century will know Chase’s work, Curry said.
“You can’t work on them without running into Chase,” he said.
While the Columbus Museum does not own a Chase fish painting, it does own “My Daughter, Alice.”
“He regularly painted his children or his wife,” Curry said. “A major source of income came from doing portraits. Models were very expensive to hire. The kids were there.
“A lot of artists did that … painted their families.”
Before coming to Columbus, Curry will be visiting the High Museum of Art in Atlanta to examine its Chase painting of fish.
“I have to look at every one of these,” he said.