An Impressionist paints Brooklyn by the water

After studying art in Munich, refining his eclectic Impressionist style across Europe, and creating an elegant studio on East 10th Street in Manhattan that reflected his flamboyant persona, painter William Merritt Chase moved to Brooklyn.

[“Afternoon by the Sea, Gravesend Bay” 1888]

It was 1887. The 37-year-old had just gotten married, and he and his new bride chose to live with his parents at their comfortable Brooklyn home as they began having kids.

It’s no surprise, then, that the booming city of Brooklyn was the subject of many of Chase’s landscape paintings.

[“Stormy Day Bath Beach,” 1888]

Chase painted scenes in Prospect Park, Tompkins Park, the Navy Yard, and other lush, verdant parts of the city that reflected Brooklyn’s natural (if landscaped) beauty.

But he also depicted Brooklyn’s beaches—not the honky tonk, tawdry scene at Coney Island but the quieter upper class areas along Gravesend Bay.

[“Bath Beach—a Sketch,” 1888]

By the 1880s, after the railroads came in and made it easier for vacationers to reach Brooklyn’s beaches, Coney Island and Brighton Beach weren’t the only areas that became recreation destinations.

The upper part of Gravesend also evolved into an elite resort and entertainment area, and the resort neighborhood of Bath Beach was created with a nod toward Bath, England.

[“Gravesend Bay (the Lower Bay),” 1889]

Bath Beach had hotels, yacht racing, bathing, and family-friendly entertainment “upon the soft, sea-washed sands,” as one 1887 Brooklyn beach guidebook described it. Gravesend was best-known for its racetrack, which attracted throngs of fans.

Merritt did venture near Coney Island at least once. In “Landscape Near Coney Island,” one icon of Sodom by the Sea can be seen in the background: Coney’s elephant-shaped hotel, made famous when it went up in the 1880s.

[“Landscape Near Coney Island,” date unknown]

The Impressionist painter and his family didn’t stay very long in Brooklyn. In 1891, Merritt became the director of the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art.

His waterside landscapes after that point reflected the sunny, white sandy beaches of the Eastern End of Long Island, where the school was located.

Tags: , , , , ,

5 Responses to “An Impressionist paints Brooklyn by the water”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    There is so much since that time that has improved – transportation, health care, longevity – but it is a treat to glimpse at the attractiveness of New York (and particularly Brooklyn in this case) and what brought people to it. I’m sure that Merritt’s vision is somewhat idealized, but it is still revealing and delightful. Thank you for this beautiful look at another time.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I agree about the beauty of Brooklyn in the 19th century. And sure, he somewhat idealized perhaps…but these paintings are still lovely and enchanting.

  3. Ruth Edebohls Says:

    He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.

  4. Bill Wolfe Says:

    I always enjoy when you post about painters and their work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: