Go to contents

Hidden identity

Posted April. 07, 2022 07:57,   

Updated April. 07, 2022 07:57


A girl in a black dress is seated comfortably in a soft armchair. The chair and background all in red give a very strong impression. The pale-skinned girl’s face appears expression‎less, but her eyes looking at something show that she is content. Who is this girl?

William Chase was (1849-1916) a well-known impressionist painter and a devoted educator of 19th century in the United States. He was educated in New York and worked as an artist in Munich, Germany where he first earned fame. He returned to New York in 1878 and set up an art studio on 10th Avenue where all the famous artists lived. He excelled in all fields, including portraits, landscape, still life, pastels, and watercolor, but particularly well-known for portraits of famous people. At that time, many well-known people in New York became his models. However, the girl in this picture is an orphan.

Back then, the U.S. was a new and young country and lacked social welfare. Children were neglected while their parents worked at factories or ports for 14 hours a day. Thus, childcare centers were set up to accommodate the children. Only 10-20% of the children were orphans without parents and most were abandoned due to poverty. The facilities of the orphanages were poor and physical punishment and violence quite common. Chase, as an educator, might have felt sympathy towards the girl. He might have wanted to raise the social issues by depicting the orphan. The painting, titled the Young Orphan, triggered a sensation at the exhibition of the American Artists Association in the spring of 1884. The title of the painting was revised to “At Her Ease” when it was exhibited at the 20 person exhibition held in the same year in Belgium.

Why did Chase opt for a more neutral name exhibiting the painting in a more liberal group exhibition? Perhaps he hoped viewers would focus more on the painting itself, by concealing the identify of the model, which would undoubtedly become topic of social debate. He wished that the girl in the painting would be seen without any prejudice, simply as a model.