William Merritt Chase
An Early Stroll in the Park
North America, American, New York
20 3/8 in. x 24 1/2 in. (51.75 cm x 62.23 cm)
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection
"An Early Stroll in the Park" is one of a series of works Chase painted between 1886 and 1890 that focused on the urban landscape, primarily the public parks of Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Central Park. Urban park imagery was a staple for French Impressionist artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919) and Alfred Sisley (British, 1839-1899), however it was innovative for an American painter such as Chase to focus on the emerging culture of city life as it moved into shared public spaces. In this case, he utilized an important destination for visitors to Central Park—the Bethesda Terrace and its Fountain, topped by Emma Stebbins bronze sculpture, "The Angel of the Waters" (1873).
Jacob Wrey Mould (English, 1825-1886) designed the Terrace and Bethesda Fountain as an architectural monument inspired by the great formal gardens of England and France. "The Angel of the Waters", which sits atop the fountain on the lower terrace, was commissioned by the Park Commissioners in 1863. The angel figure was inspired by the biblical story of the Bethesda Pool, a Jerusalem spring credited with the power to heal the sick. The connection between the healing and restorative powers of water, and the role of the park within the life of New York City may impart specific meaning to Chase’s choice of this particular site. (See Barbara Dyer Gallati, William Merritt Chase: Modern American Landscapes, 1886-1890. New York: Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1999, pp. 37-46.)
American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 2006, cat. no. 25, p. 82.