Pablo de Sarasate: Portrait of a Violinist

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Pablo de Sarasate: Portrait of a Violinist

United States, circa 1875
Paintings
Oil on canvas
22 1/2 x 18 13/16 in. (57.15 x 47.78 cm)
Mary D. Keeler Bequest (40.12.9)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Although the form of the signature is like that used by William Chase after about 1885, several stylistic features point to a date late in Chase’s Munich period (1872-78), especially the broadly brush...
Although the form of the signature is like that used by William Chase after about 1885, several stylistic features point to a date late in Chase’s Munich period (1872-78), especially the broadly brushed colored background, the working of the hair into an unruly mass extended beyond reasonable limits, and the overly strong, flat lighting with white high, lights-characteristics of Chase’s Munich style, which he abandoned soon after his return to New York in 1878. By leaving parts of the composition in a conspicuously unfinished state, Chase and his American and German associates in Munich drew attention to the forceful realism in the finished portions of the face, and to the fact that the rendering was achieved in just one sitting rather than as a result of two or more sessions. For instance, in subsequent revisions the artist also would have worked in the back, ground light and shadow over the extended portion of the hair, bringing the entire painting to a state of uniform finish. The clarity of vision and economy of means that produced such realistic definition and strong characterization bear witness to the technical brilliance achieved by Chase at the Munich Academy. In 1928 the subject was identified as a violinist and in 1937 as the celebrated virtuoso and composer Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1904), who toured widely during the 1870s. Chase’s subject seems older than thirty-one, Sarasate’s age in 1875, although the portrait bears a general resemblance to other images of the violinist. In 1875 Sarasate would not have worn the lapel rosette of the Legion of Honor, which may have been added at a later date. The canvas may have been stored rolled up, causing a multitude of fine, horizontal cracks to appear. Chase later may have painted over the background, hair, and costume in a uniform dark tone and again signed the painting. This is the way the portrait must have appeared when Chase exhibited it early in this century. It was necessary to remove this overpainting during conservation by the museum’s staff.
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About The Era

After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris....
After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris. By the late nineteenth century the Paris Salon was the most important exhibition space in the Western world. Artists from many nations would submit their best works to its annual exhibition. The honor of being accepted presaged an artist’s future success. Thousands of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper were presented at each Salon; the exhibition halls were so crowded that paintings were hung to the ceiling with sculptures scattered about. To be hung “on the line” (at eye level) meant a work of art ranked among the best in the show. Since a painting might be skied (hung near the ceiling), many artists painted on a large scale to ensure that their work could be seen no matter where it was placed.
Contrary to earlier periods, American painting in the late 1800s was no longer dominated by a single aesthetic. Munich-school paintings—narrative scenes, often based on literature or history and painted in a dark palette—as well as small figure paintings in the realist tradition were popular in both France and the United States. Large portraits represent the academic style that dominated official taste during this era. Bright, sun-drenched scenes by a more progressive group of artists, the impressionists are diametrically opposite in color, mood, and concept to muted tonalist and symbolist works. Whereas the impressionists celebrated contemporary life with all its transformations, the tonalists and symbolists created hazily illuminated, dreamlike imagery.
Sculptures range from academic examples of idealized mythological imagery to expressions of the newer interest in the emotive potential of the human form. Equestrian bronzes by Frederic Remington demonstrate that at the turn of the century there was a continuing enthusiasm for heroic depictions of the West despite the increased internationalism of American taste.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.