Catalog Essay | September 17, 2020 | Lot 118
William Merritt Chase is one of the most celebrated American artists. He was an influential teacher of plein-air painting and a tremendously successful artist working in a progressive style that included elements of Tonalism, Impressionism and Realism. Chase was born in Franklin, Indiana where he began his artistic training under Benjamin Hayes. He spent a brief period in St. Louis, Missouri studying under Munich-trained artist John Mulvaney.
His talent was apparent and patrons from St. Louis sponsored a trip for Chase to go to Munich and study bravura painting at the Royal Academy. (Bravura is a type of brushstroke used by John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Velazquez and others. To accomplish this style, painters use what appears to be quick brushstroke but is actually a deliberate, purposeful paint application.) From 1872-1878 Chase studied in Munich with friends J. Frank Currier, Frank Duveneck and John Twachtman.
In 1878, Chase returned to New York where he became a teacher at the Art Students League and rented a studio in Greenwich Village. Chase quickly outgrew his original space and took over the large gallery originally intended for all of the Tenth Street Studio Building tenants to exhibit their work.
He made several trips to Europe absorbing the styles of the Old Masters but also increasingly of contemporary European artists like Edouard Manet and Giuseppe de Nittis. Back in New York he painted park scenes from 1886-1890. In February of 1887, he married Alice Gerson and moved with his new wife to his parents’ house in Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, they had their first child and Chase painted nearby Prospect Park and Tompkins Park. Public parks in New York were a response to urban growth and an emblem of modernity in cities.
Chase may have been inspired to paint parks through the work of his contemporaries. In Europe in 1881, Chase met John Singer Sargent and the two would form a life-long friendship. Sargent’s In Luxembourg Gardens was exhibited in New York in the mid-1880s. In 1885 in London, Chase and Whistler met painting portraits of one another, although it did not end favorably as Whistler did not like Chase’s portrait of him. Chase may have come to know Whistler through his work including his etchings of London and Paris and his paintings of London park scenes from 1872-1877.
Parks were a genteel subject, places where stylish urban socialites could gather to view the artistic product of landscape architects like Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. 
It was during this period of Chase’s fascination with park subjects that he painted Poplar Lake. The catalogue raisonne notes,
“The painting is also known by the descriptive title, Lakeside Park. Chase exhibited Poplar Lake in his first one man show held at the Boston Art Club in late 1886. The dating derives from the painting’s stylistic similarity to others created by Chase during this period. The poplar trees, seen here on the distant shore, are also evident in at least two other works by Chase dating from this period. Summertime (L. 60) and Pulling for Shore (L. 53). These scenes are thought to depict the areas of Brooklyn where Chase and his wife, Alice, lived at the time. There is no record of a “Poplar Lake” in New York or New Jersey—perhaps there was one at the time that has since come to be known by a different name or Chase might have coined the name himself.”
 adapted from H. Barbara Weinberg, “William Merritt Chase,” July 2011, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chas/hd_chas.htm).