Staff Picks: William Merritt Chase's "View of Fiesole"
Danielle Carrabino is the Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Smith College Museum of Art. In this post, Danielle discusses a small landscape painting by William Merritt Chase that holds personal resonance for her.
There are so many wonderful works of art in the SCMA collection, it is difficult to select just one. One of my personal favorites is a small oil on panel by the American painter William Merritt Chase. I came across it by chance while searching the database for a different painting by this artist (the SCMA has three). At first glance, I was struck by a sense of familiarity before even learning its title: View of Fiesole. Fiesole is a hill town on the outskirts of Florence, Italy, where I grew up. I immediately recognized the crisp light, the silvery green olive trees in the foreground, the majestic cypress trees that create a kind of natural skyline, and the red-tiled villas in the distance.
Fiesole is not often included in the itinerary that many tourists who visit Florence follow. Its distance from the city center requires either a costly cab ride or 20-minute trip on a public bus—something that is often too daunting for many to attempt. I appreciate this weeding out process because it preserves the peaceful atmosphere in Fiesole.
It is clear to me from this painting that Chase felt the same way about Fiesole as I do. He captured the essence of its beauty in the stunning and lush natural setting. I also love that Fiesole is a place that contains several layers of history. In fact, Fiesole was first inhabited by the ancient Etruscans and existed long before the Romans established Florence as a city.
Chase is one of many artists Fiesole has attracted over the centuries. He made several trips to Italy to study, view art, and network before purchasing a villa in Fiesole in 1910. In the years prior, Chase had visited Florence and its surrounding areas during the summer, precisely when he painted this work. I like to imagine that he probably created this painting in summertime because Fiesole is a place I often associate with that time of year.
For centuries, Florentines have retreated to Fiesole to escape the oppressive heat and throngs of tourists in the city. As a hill town, the temperature is always much lower there, especially in the evening. I remember feeling the wonderfully cool air fill our car through the open windows as we ascended the hill. Sometimes it was just my family that visited, other times we would be accompanied by guests and friends. Upon arriving, we would park the car and walk the rest of the way on foot as parts of the ancient town are still not accessible by car. The hill to the top of the town is extremely steep, but our reward was a sprawling view of Florence below, sometimes just as the sun was setting. We would usually then proceed to our favorite pizza spot near the church of San Domenico, often followed by a gelato. Other evenings, we would catch an outdoor concert or movie in the Roman theater.
I plan to return to Fiesole upon my next visit to Florence, whenever that may be. In the meantime, through this painting I am able to enjoy the view and all of the memories it evokes for me.
We hope you enjoyed this installment of SCMA’s Staff Picks series. We would love to hear which work is your favorite and why!
William Merritt Chase, View of Fiesole
Although I come from New York, I make the pilgrimage to Fiesole each time I visit Florence. During this pandemic I visit in my dreams. I have always loved the paintings of the East End of Long Island by this artist, and was unaware he had a villa in Fiesole. Of course now I'd like to stroll by that on my next visit. The painting is exquisite. Thank you for making the introductions.