With William Merritt-Chase in Venice

I’m here visiting an exhibition of Merrit-Chases work which is much to my delight. I discovered was showing in Venice. Fortunately, as my train to Rome is later in the day, I had a chance to go and have a good look and spend some time with his work.

Feeling inspired.

The first thing that has struck me is his use of paint. Thin. Glazing. Texture. Big slashes applied with a painting knife balanced against quiet areas of the most subtle and thinly applied colors. Flickering brushstrokes on smooth broad areas of dark.

He can paint.

Portraits, landscapes, still life, figure narratives, interiors, children – this collection of his works has them all.

Secondly I notice the beauty. The gesture of the most delicate hand, the slump of a fresh wet and heavy fish, the scudding of cotton clouds driven by a spring breeze. There is movement, life, breath in these paintings; all infused with an inherent internal beauty.

The figures in his portraits, while obviously confident are not arrogant. Beautiful but not saccharine.
Posed but not staged. To me this is the epitome of great painting. To have the hand of the artist and his unique way of setting a subject and applying paint clearly showing – yet not overpowering the subject he’s portraying….supporting it but not dominating. Here it all comes together to make for simple breathtaking painting.
The way he’s applied the sticky paint in the highlights, some of them big gobs of pure colour with softened edges combined with sharp knife strokes.

He’s also drawn on the old masters chiaroscuro method…using light and dark to sculpt his subjects.
A beautifully luminous face emerging out of the darkness or a white ribbon catching light and breaking through a large patch of atmospheric dark.

They’re moving, intriguing, interesting, beautiful all at once….and certainly masterfully observed and painted. I really was delighted to have this unplanned opportunity to spend time with him. For me, this type of painting lifts my soul…touches me I a way that I no words to describe…but somehow gives meaning to my days and leaves me changed…..all for the better. As great art should.

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