Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Beach, California


an essay in connection with...

Art Colonies and American Impressionism

January 9 through April 11, 1999


What Made Laguna Beach Special

by Deborah Epstein Solon




Shinnecock, Long Island

The explosion of growth on Long Island, particularly in Southampton, was also hastened by the railroad. Eastern Long Island is divided into two forks, north and south: the town of Southampton is found on the south fork. The Southside Railroad Line reached the east end of Long Island in 1868, essentially opening areas for the first time. With its improved accessibility, Southampton became a summer playground for wealthy New Yorkers who discovered its crystalline beaches and shore.19 Likened to Newport, Rhode Island, by the 1890s it boasted a first-class hotel, the Shinnecock Inn, and the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the first incorporated golf course in America. 20 The area itself, called Shinnecock Hills, was especially noted for its location directly to the west of the village of Southampton. One condition that was significant for the success of an art colony was a summer school.21

William Merritt Chase, The Chase Homestead, Shinnecock, oil on canvas, 14 1/4 x 16 1/8 inches, San Diego Museum of Art, California, gift of Mrs. Walter Harrison Fisher

Shinnecock was home to perhaps the most famous summer school of the period: William Merritt Chase 's Shinnecock School of Summer Art, established in 1891. The art colony at Shinnecock differed from those at Old Lyme, Cos Cob, or Laguna Beach, because the overwhelmingly single attraction was Chase himself. At the urging of Mrs. William Hoyt, a wealthy summer resident of Southampton and an amateur artist, Chase was persuaded to become director of a summer art school at Shinnecock Hills. Two philanthropic Southampton residents, Mrs. Henry Kirke Porter and Samuel L. Parrish, donated the land and facilitated the construction of a studio building and residential cottages, dubbed the Art Village. The Art Village was the nucleus of the social life for the colony. Students rented a cottage or found alternative accommodations in neighboring boarding houses. By the second year, Chase was accorded the privilege of having a home a short distance from the village designed for him by Stanford White's firm.22 The Chase Homestead, Shinnecock is one of the many excellent representations the artist painted of his family home in the Shinnecock Hills. A plunging road leads into the painting. Chase's daughter Dorothy, painted with an economy of strokes, picks bowers by the side of the road. From this vantage point, Chase essayed the solitary house and grounds in an Impressionistic manner, with swift brushwork and an infusion of light.

Much has been written about Chase, his dynamic personality, pedagogical prowess, and biting wit. About a thousand students studied with him during his summers in Shinnecock between 1891 and 1902. Town residents followed the school's events as well, attending his weekly critiques, open studio visits, and talks on art. Most of the students were amateur women painters, but a number of Shinnecock students later established successful careers as professional artists. Edmund Greacen, for example, an alumnus of the Chase summer school, was a resident in the art colonies at Giverny and at Old Lyme.

As was the case for all the art colonies under discussion here, the focus at Shinnecock was clearly on Impressionism--on light, spontaneity, and high-key chromatics, all brought to bear on the landscape. Students could be found painting in the fields from morning to night---to the bewilderment of the local farmers.23 Truth to nature; the obligation of the painter to paint what he saw, was a standard by which Chase judged himself and his students.


Footnotes: 1 -9, 10-25, 26-38, 39-54, 55-72, 73-79

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