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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

American, 1849 - 1916
Sunlight and Shadow, Shinnecock Hills
c. 1895
Oil on canvas

35 x 40 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Mrs. James W. Glanville

Arts of North America

This luminous landscape was inspired by the rather flat and ordinary countryside of Shinnecock, Long Island, where William Merritt Chase taught outdoor painting. Chase’s deceptively simple composition testifies to his ability to make the ordinary seem extraordinary.

Originally from the Midwest, Chase studied at the National Academy of Design in New York, and then in Europe at the Munich Academy, where artists were encouraged to depict ordinary subject matter, and to handle paint broadly using a limited, dark palette enlivened with small bits of bright color. After further study and travel abroad, Chase returned to New York, where he became a highly visible art figure known for his generosity, eclecticism, and charisma, and for his Impressionist scenes of public parks and his bold portraits.

Chase’s most consistent and brilliant body of work is the series of Impressionist landscapes he painted from 1891 to 1902, during summers at Shinnecock. This imposing example provides a fresh, seemingly spontaneous interpretation of the movement of clouds and sunlight and their effects on the coastal landscape below. Sandwiched in between the scraggly clumps of dune grass, heather, and sky are pink dunes highlighted by a streak of red, and a sliver of sea dotted with white boats.