William Merritt Chase - Idle Hours [c.1894]

Between 1891 and 1902 Chase (American, 1849–1916) found genteel outdoor subjects in Southampton, Long Island, where he directed the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art. In this scene, set on the scrubby dunes along Shinnecock Bay, he shows four of his frequent models: a woman in a red bonnet (probably his wife), two of his daughters, and, possibly, one of Mrs. Chase's sisters. Chase invites the viewer to fill in the picture's sketchy forms and elusive story. Idle Hours, which is typical of the pictures of urbanites enjoying suburban retreats that displaced images of country folk at play, hints at the growth of leisure time in response to urbanisation and industrialisation, women's predominance at summer resorts while their husbands worked in the city, and unaccompanied women's preference for safe seaside pastimes. The narrative may also be as simple as Henry James's observation: "Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."

[Oil on canvas, 99.1 x 123.5 cm]