Harry Chase (1853-1889), American
Fishermen at Yport, about 1877
oil on canvas laid on panel, 9 5/8 in. x 12 ½ in.
(framed dimensions: 13 1/8 in. x 16 in.)
unsigned, inscribed at lower left “YPORT”
A fine oil sketch by the noted marine painter Harry Chase, depicting fishermen sitting beside their boat on the beach at Yport, France, painted about 1877 when Chase is known to have been living and working in France. The lack of a formal signature, the inscribed location and the small size indicate the work is a sketch, yet it succeeds quite well as a finished work in its own right. The young Chase already shows considerable talent, both in the execution of the painting and in the balanced composition, a series of three horizontal bands – shore, sea and sky – onto which he superimposes the boat, its spars and a capstan used to winch boats ashore, creating an interesting arrangement of abstract negative shapes. That being said, I feel that the real subject matter is the afternoon light of Normandy that suffuses the scene. Chase incorporates interesting color notes to enliven the scene – the yellow ochre of the woven baskets, the hypnotic turquoise blue of the Atlantic beyond and the bright white and red laundry at center, evoking the tricolor flag.
Jeffrey Chace - researcher, author and relative of Harry Chase - has been kind enough to point out to me that there are other extant sketches done by Chase in Yport with the same “YPORT” inscription as seen in this example. Chace also pointed out to me that a large finished work by Chase, “Afternoon at Yport”, which now hangs in the lobby of the Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis, includes several features found in these Yport sketches.
The frame for this painting bears a label from the prestigious Noonan-Kocian gallery in St. Louis. It’s possible this sketch was included in an “Exhibition of Sketches by Harry Chase” held at that gallery in March, 1900. The Saint Louis Daily Globe-Democrat reported that a cache of Chase sketches had been kept in a safe deposit vault since his death in 1889, and that the artist’s wife had finally been prevailed upon, by admirers and collectors of Chase’s work, to place the 230 sketches up for exhibition and sale at Noonan-Kocian’s. That article, printed March 25, 1900, noted that “The majority of the sketches are marines, the class of painting in which Mr. Chase won his reputation… Mr. Chase at the time of his death ranked next to Mesdag as a marine painter. The effect of his work under the great Dutch painter is shown in the progress of his color effects, and forms a very fascinating study.” I am again indebted to Jeffrey Chace for all information relative to this exhibition.
Harry Chase was born in Woodstock, Vermont in 1853. The family moved to a farm in Iowa in 1857, remaining there until 1868 when they once again moved, this time to St. Louis. That same year, Chase began two years of study with the portrait painter James Reeve Stuart. From there, he went to the National Academy of Design in New York City for a year after which he traveled to Europe to attend the Royal Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Chase returned to St. Louis in 1876 and had a successful solo show and auction, selling 40 paintings. While home, he married Laura Emeline Eames in 1877 and the two of them returned to Europe where Harry studies with Paul Soyer in Paris for 2 years and then with Hendrik Mesdag at The Hague. It was Mesdag and Dutch Impressionism that would have the biggest influence on Chase’s style. While in Europe, Harry had 2 paintings accepted to the Paris Salon, one in 1878 and another in 1879.
Returning to America in 1879, Chase had another successful one man show and auction in St. Louis, selling 64 works. Chase’s career was off and running when he established a studio in Manhattan, becoming one of the premier artists in the country and exhibiting at the most important exhibitions. In 1883 he was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design and in 1885 he won the Hallgarten Prize.
It was thus in the prime of his career in late 1885 that Chase became encumbered by a tragic stretch of mental and physical ailments. He was treated at the Hudson River State Asylum for the Insane and later at an asylum in Tennessee. He was never able to resume painting and eventually succumbed to his illness in 1889 at the young age of 36.
Harry Chase exhibited at the St. Louis Fair & Expo, the Kunstverein in Munich, Germany, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Paris Salon, the National Academy of Design, the Salmagundi Club, the American Watercolor Society, the Philadelphia Society of Artists, the Boston Art Club, the Southern Exposition, the Chicago Interstate Industrial, New England Manufacturers and Mechanics Institute and International Art Exhibition, Munich.
He was a member of the National Academy of Design, American Art Union, American Watercolor Society, Salmagundi Club (Vice President), Artists’ Fund Society, Boston Art Club, St; Louis Sketch Club and the St. Louis Academy of Fine Arts.
The canvas has been mounted onto a wooden panel at some point, either by the artist, his supplier or possibly at the time it was sold at Noonan-Kocian in St. Louis. The wooden panel has a paper backing and the whole has been framed with a piece of cardboard as the outer backing. The painting is in excellent condition – the paint is stable with nice colors and no visible craquelure. I see no areas of retouch when examined under UV light. There are slight areas of surface soiling primarily around the image perimeter. The carved and parcel-gilt frame is in excellent condition also with no losses and a nice patinated surface.
Harry Chase, Fishermen at Yport, oil on canvas mounted on panel