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View of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

William Merritt Chase

Artwork Details

View of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
William Merritt Chase
oil on panel
5 in x 10 ⅛ in (12.7 cm x 25.72 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Hirschl


March 28 2009
From 1886 to 1890 Chase executed many small paintings of New York City’s harbors and parks, like this tiny panoramic View of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This view, taken from across the East River, captures some of the Yard’s more industrial aspects; smokestacks and ship’s masts in the distance are a reminder that this is where merchant vessels were manufactured. But the Navy Yard was also where the admiralty and officers were housed, and it contained pleasure grounds that were open to the public. Chase painted many views of it, including leisure scenes from within its precincts. All were made to appeal to a domestic art market that was rejecting European painters and subjects in favor of ones that celebrated American life. This sort of cultural pride was also felt by the artist, who stated: “There are charming bits in Central Park and Prospect Park, Brooklyn.…Along the docks and wharves there is every bit as good material as that on the banks of the Thames which the English artists have made immortal.” Chase’s vibrant paintings of these subjects won him critical acclaim and were very popular with the burgeoning middle class. They are often regarded as the first significant studies of the American landscape using Impressionist techniques, which may be seen here in the bright palette, finely modulated colors, soft transient atmospheric effects, and lively brushwork.

Subject Matter:

This works marks a pivotal period in Chase’s career as he began to apply French Impressionist techniques to distinctly American urban landscapes. He deliberately focused on the subject matter of the parks and harbors of New York with the aim of underscoring the civility of modern American culture. In “View of the Brooklyn Navy Yard” Chase transforms an ordinarily rough commercial space into a high art subject.

Physical Description:

Horizontal view of harbor scene with water, dock, and boats. Small figures and trees on pier in middle ground. WMC painted in green in lower right corner.

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