Executed under the tutelage of Chase, Study of a Hat portrays a smartly-attired female sitter. However, the dark oval-shaped silhouette atop the model’s head is merely an accessory; Ketcham focuses instead on her confident gaze and delicate features.
In 1888 Ketcham moved to New York City and enrolled at the Art Students League. She spent nearly 40 years in the city. Thanks to Chase and Ketcham, a Hoosier enclave formed in the American art capital.
Affixed to the stretcher (reproduced below) is evidence of Ketcham’s continued participation in the Indianapolis art scene: a Lyman Brothers stamp from its display at the local gallery, and a label from an 1889 exhibition of the Art Association of Indianapolis. Six years prior, Ketcham had organized the Association’s first exhibition.
Ketcham took an early interest in art and helped establish two art schools in Indianapolis, but she did not begin to paint seriously until she was over forty years old. Born to a pioneering Indiana family, Ketcham became a painter and teacher. She was one of eighteen women who in 1883 founded the Art Association of Indianapolis which became the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Herron School of Art and Design. She organized the artwork for the Art Association’s first exhibition and hired faculty to open the school. For the first year, she taught at the school and took summer trips in the U. S. and Europe. As a middle-aged woman, Ketcham enrolled in the Art Students League in New York and was elected a life member. She studied with William Merritt Chase and became godmother to his son. New York was the focus of her life, and she became involved with the Art Students League. In the summers, she went to Ogunquit, Maine to paint seascapes and teach summer classes.
Ketcham probably painted this young woman during her first year of study with William Merritt Chase in New York. Its dark, warm tones and freely brushed manner betray the Munich School’s influence, which she absorbed through Chase. The painting’s title suggests the importance the artist placed upon the sweeping dark oval form of the woman’s large hat. Its shape and color contrast with the delicate neckline of the lace-edged blouse.
Judith Vale Newton and Carol Ann Weiss. Skirting the Issue: Stories of Indiana’s Historical Women Artists, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2004. ISBN-13: 978-0871951779
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