The end of Carnival this year was partly marked by a gray and gloomy weather. During those days it was quite frequent to see masks parading along venetian calli hidden by a layer of mist, while dozens of mobile phones captured glimpses of their wonderful costumes.
On such livid days, where could a not exactly Carnival-confusion-lover like me find a peaceful shelter? The answer is quite easy: in any museum or gallery in town. I decided to visit the retrospective at Ca’ Pesaro: “William Merritt Chase: A Painter between New York and Venice”.
I couldn’t choose any better.
It’s always interesting to observe how Venice has been lived and depicted during different ages and according to various points of view. Moreover, if the artist is a foreigner or more simply, somebody from out of town (“foresto”, as we say in venetian dialect), in other words somebody who is lucky enough to lay his or her eyes on the palaces, calli and canali of the Serenissima for the very first time, the sense of wonder you can experience from his/her paintings is granted.
Even if the exhibition’s title suggests either a whole life lived between New York and Venice or frequent and sustained visits here in the lagoon, William Merrit Chase (Williamsburg, Indiana 1849 – New York 1916) stayed in Venice on only two occasions: the first one during his training period, the second one towards the end of his life.
Chase first arrived in Venice in 1877 together with some schoolmates. His eyes and heart were soon to be charmed by the town’s appeal. He lived in the lagoon for almost a year producing about twenty paintings and comparing his style to the one of the other artist’s in town.
He depicted for example lush green balconies facing a canal, a fondamenta (along a canal, it is the bank for pedestrians) in half-light while two gondole slide on the near rio (small canal), the treasures of an antique dealer exhibited in the court next to his atelier.
I must admit that I could identify myself with the colours and details of this last painting, even if the public area occupied by our shop, Antichità al Ghetto, is definitely zero!
And then, the catch of the day by Venetian fishermen depicted in a still life of considerable size.
More than 30 years passed before Chase returned in Venice. It was the summer of 1913; he was now a famous painter and art teacher.
Venice was the last stop of his art classes taught around Europe. The artist stayed at Hotel Gran Canal et Monaco: from the darkness of his room he portayed the wonderful view beyond his room balcony.
Even if the title given to the retrospective – it will be on display till May, 28th – might lead astray, since the paintings depicting Venice are just a few, the rest of the works displayed among the wonderful room of Ca’ Pesaro are so beautiful they will take your breath away.
Chase’s painting themes focused on different subjects: the exhibition itinerary emphasises his still lives, all of considerable sizes which reflections, lighs and three-dimensionality are the main features; and then the wonderful portraits of New York high society women, the life scenes of Chase’s family and the interiors depicted to the last detail in a harmony of colours and perspectives.
Colours, colours everywhere. That’s exactly what I was looking for to distract myself from the gloominess covering Venice almost two weeks ago.
Apparently I couldn’t choose a better day to recognize myself with Chase: during his last visit in Venice he also found a dark and gray weather that inspired him to paint an oil on panel with the title: “Gray Day on the Lagoon” (1913 ca). He felt like writing about it to his wife too:
“My dear, this has been another bad day. Rain, rain, rain. I stayed in my room all day, and painted from the balcony which is sheltered. I think perhaps I got a fairly good thing”.
Talk about empathising with the artist!