Friday, July 1, 2011

Fine Arts Friday: At the Seaside

At the Seaside by William Merritt Chase
(As always, click on the painting to see it in a larger size.)

It's summertime, and here we are at the seaside in 1892, painted by American impressionist painter and teacher, William Merritt Chase. Chase seems to particularly enjoy painting his family, which is likely the subject here, since he had a home in Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, New York. Mr. and Mrs. Chase had eight children.

In this work, he has captured the charm of being near the water in the midst of a stiff breeze--the umbrellas are protection against the wind, not the sun. Ladies traipse down to the beach from their houses with pillows, umbrellas, and children in tow. Children have the same preoccupations as today: digging around in the sand looking for whatever tiny critters, shells, pebbles, egg bags, seaweed, tiny seahorses, and other treasures they might find. They closely the observe the magic of burying and unburying, of hiding and seeking. Perhaps the families behind the umbrellas have brought food for picnicking. All appear unified by their class, pleasure, umbrellas, white apparel, and the red that Chase has splashed about on their clothes and accoutrements.

Best of all, we see in the foreground a mother in dialogue with her child. The tilt of the daughter's head could signal that the child is trying to accept a rejection of a request, or perhaps her mother is telling a story of the sea, perhaps a grandfather was a sea captain. The other daughter squats behind her mother, totally oblivious to the discussion, totally absorbed in her digging. Like his near-contemporary Mary Cassatt, Chase was an impressionist with a gift for catching the relational moment of his subjects.

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