Today’s selection is ‘Study of Flesh Colour and Gold,’ a pastel by American artist William Merritt Chase. He was an exceptionally talented man whose versatility never ceases to amaze me. Not only did Chase work in oil paint, pastel, and watercolor, but also he excelled at a wide variety of subjects, including portraiture, landscape, and still life. Whatever subject matter he chose, Chase’s work always demonstrates his gift for composition and unique perspective. His depiction of light owes much to the Impressionists, though his works have a viewpoint which strikes me as very American.
Chase’s ‘Colour and Gold’ is a beautiful figure study which possesses the aesthetics a traditional still life, observing on the brilliancy of light and shadow upon its subject. Indeed, this woman’s body is presented as if it were a remarkable treasure out on display; I could easily see an antique vase or ivory carving sitting in her place against that golden Oriental screen. This study does not sexualize the subject but rather meditates on the graceful quality of the light. Chase’s use of color is vibrant yet strangely soothing—almost sensual in how it caresses the skin. And also I love his minimal use of shadow, found primarily around the contours of the woman’s body and the within the folds of the blanket at her waist.
For me the most identifiable aspect of this painting are the subject’s ears. With her face turned away from us, we can’t help but notice those ears. While most of ‘Colour and Gold’ was rendered with soft brushstrokes, the ears possess a delicate sharpness which calls to my attention. This is a very distinct pair of ears too, the kind of ears which you’d use to characterize a person. Perhaps Chase was a close companion of the model.
Furthermore it’s not often in paintings that you’re granted a view of the space behind one’s ears. If you think about it this is a very intimate perspective from which to study your subject.
Hell, I wouldn’t recognize the back of my own ears! My friends and family could probably point them out in a photograph, but of obvious reason I’d be at a loss to identify my own from someone else’s. It’s one of many attributes about myself I’m unfamiliar with—literally because I do not have eyes in the back of my head!
Wow. This entry really went off track!