A native of Indiana, Chase studied art in Munich, Germany. The dark tonalities of this oil sketch reflect the so-called Munich School style and are typical of Chase’s work of the mid-1880s.
In this study, Chase manipulated the lighting to create a dramatic effect, bathing one half of the sitter’s face in bright light and casting the other in shadow. His loose, energetic brushwork also enlivens the sober color scheme.
Throughout his career, Chase created informal figure studies. This one, painted before he had achieved his mature style, has the vigor and freshness of Chase’s best portrait work.
William Merritt Chase and His Munich Palette
A native of Indiana, Chase studied first in Indianapolis and then in Munich, where he shared a studio with Frank Duveneck. Like Duveneck, he outgrew the limitations of the Leibl School in the 1880s, but retained an allegiance to the black tones of Frans Hals and Édouard Manet. Much of his work from this period consists of casual studies.
There is no evidence to support the traditional title A Spanish Girl or the date 1896, when Chase paid his third visit to Spain. In fact, the dress was common in the United States during the 1880s. Moreover, the style is typical of Chase’s work from around the middle of that decade, which was influenced by the dark tonalities of his Munich period. The canvas is painted in broad, straight brushstrokes, which have the panache, but lack the subtlety of his mature technique. The painting nevertheless has the liveliness of his best informal portraits. Like many other American artists of the period, Chase was at his best painting young women, whose beauty he captured and even flattered with his technique. Curiously enough, he endowed most of them, including this sitter, with the features of his wife, who provided his ideal of femininity that lasted unabated until his death.