William Merritt Chase was born in Ninevah, Indiana and studied under Barton Hayes in Indianapolis and then briefly at the National Academy of Design. Due to the interest and generosity of several art patrons, Chase was able to take a five-year trip to Munich, where he studied at the city’s Royal Academy. In 1878, Chase returned to New York City, opened his Tenth Street Studio and developed his signature impressionist style. He was a member of America’s influential group of impressionists known as The Ten, but was also an extremely influential teacher. Chase opened the first summer school of landscape painting at his summer home in Shinnecock, Long Island. He also taught at the Chase School in New York, which he founded, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His students included such famous artists as Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Charles Sheeler.
When Chase painted this portrait of his grandfather, he was no more than eighteen years old and Moses Swaim just over seventy. Young Chase had only recently begun studying with Indianapolis artist Barton Hays, but his likeness convincingly portrays the rugged features and earnest expression of this agricultural pioneer. The tightly brushed portrait is one of Chase’s earliest canvases. It descended in the artist’s family, surviving a house fire and a long period in a Kansas drug store. When it entered the IMA, the image was marred by soot, small holes and an improperly fitted frame. After treatment in the museum’s laboratory and careful reframing, Chase’s grandfather now reveals the startlingly early prowess of his portraiture.
Ronald G. Pisano. William Merritt Chase: The Complete Catalogue of Known and Documents Work by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Vol. 2: Portraits in Oil, New Haven Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0300110210