Sale 1016 Lot 65

WILLIAM MERRITT CHASE 
American (1849-1916) 
"Old Houses Near Rothenburg" 

While studying in Munich between 1872-1878, Chase visited a number of the nearby cities. Here he captures a scene in “Rothenburg ob der Tauber,” a small, well-preserved medieval town northwest of Munich. The name of the city is actually a shortened version of “Rothenburg oberhalb der Tauber” (“Rothenburg above the Tauber”) and refers to it being situated on the hilltop overlooking the Tauber River. Rothenburg’s close proximity to Munich made it an appealing escape from the city for Chase and fellow artists. 

Old Houses Near Rothenburg was first exhibited at the 1880 Society of American Artists Exhibition. In a review for the show a critic commented, “A Scene from a Village also by Mr. Chase, a dark and Dupre-like scene with a wild sky and village dwellings having steep roofs” (Varnishing Day Scenes,” New Times, March 16, 1880, 5). A critic for the Art Amateur described the work as depicting “a village street, with thatched roofs” that was one of Chase’s “rich, enjoyable pieces of Munich….in the happiest vein of the school” (“American Artists,” Art Amateur 3, no. 5 [1880]: 90). 

By this time the painting was listed as being owned by Samuel T. Peters (1854-1921). Peters was a Trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and a member of the Committee on Oriental Art, who had brought together an exceptional collection of early Chinese pottery and had lent the museum many rare pieces. After his death over a hundred of these were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by his wife.

He may have purchased the work during the 1880 exhibition of the Society of American Artists, because a work with this title was not shown again until 1910 at the National Arts Club. Or, perhaps Peters acquired Old Houses Near Rothenburg during a visit to the artist’s Tenth Street Studio, where (…), it was displayed amidst other carefully arranged but haphazard-looking array of decorative objects and paintings. This work is included on Peat’s checklist as being owned by Samuel T. Peters. (Above from Ronald Pisano, William Merritt Chase: Landscapes in Oil, vol. 3 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

After the 1880 and 1910 exhibitions, Old Houses Near Rothenburg was shown (on loan from Samuel T. Peters) at the Metropolitan Museum’s “Art Loan Exhibition of Paintings by William Merritt Chase” in 1917 (no. 6). Pictured here is a view of the exhibition where the painting is visible in its original frame. The painting was last exhibited in 1949 in a retrospective “Chase Centennial Exhibition” at the John Herron Museum in Indiana. 

William Merritt Chase is one of the most celebrated American artists. He was influential teacher of plein-aire 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 and he begin 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. Old Houses Near Rothenberg is an excellent early masterwork by Chase exhibiting his talent with the bravura style and his early mastery of painting. 

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