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Ronald G. Pisano project records for the William Merritt Chase catalogue raisonné

 Collection
Identifier: KA-0010-01

Overview

These records consist of files compiled and produced during the more than thirty years of research and writing that culminated in the publication of the Complete Catalogue of Known and Documented Work by William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), published in four volumes by Yale University Press between 2006 and 2010. The project was begun by Ronald G. Pisano (1948-2000) and completed by D. Frederick Baker and Carolyn Lane after Pisano's death. Files include correspondence with auction houses, museums, galleries, libraries, archives, and individual owners of Chase work; authentication reports; photographs of Chase work; exhibition and auction records; news clippings and articles by and about Chase; and photographs and correspondence from Chase's lifetime (mostly obtained as photocopies from other institutions).

Dates

  • 1896 - 2011
  • Majority of material found within 1975 - 2007

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Researchers must sign an agreement to respect the privacy of private owners of Chase's work prior to consulting the records. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

History of the Project and Biographical Note

Overview

The catalogue raisonné project was initiated and core research was conducted by Ronald G. Pisano, a scholar of early American art and leading expert on the art of William Merritt Chase. After Pisano's death at the age of 51 in 2000, his longtime partner, D. Frederick Baker, formed the Pisano/Chase Catalogue Raisonné Project to complete what Pisano had begun. American art scholar Carolyn K. Lane worked alongside Baker to complete Pisano's research and to prepare the catalogue for publication.
History of the Project

Ronald G. Pisano began his research William Merritt Chase in 1972 while in graduate school at the University of Delaware, embarking on what would become a lifelong project to document the artist and his artwork. While it is an arduous task to produce a catalogue raisonné of any prolific artist, creating the Chase catalogue proved especially challenging. The artist left behind few personal records or lists of his paintings. There was no logbook of portrait sitters, no running lists of exhibited, sold, or auctioned work, no family scrapbook of clippings.

With these obstacles, Pisano set about gradually building a storehouse of information about Chase and his work. He used a 1949 checklist of known works by Chase published by Wilbur Peat for the Centennial Exhibition at the John Herron Art Museum in Indiana, but found that the list was incomplete and that many works listed there were not authentic Chases. So, Pisano began compiling exhibition catalogs and auction records, gathered articles and exhibition reviews, wrote to galleries, archives, museums, and other institutions, and tracked down Chase descendents. He collected letters to Chase family members that mentioned various paintings, and obtained a family photograph album that included images of Chase's work. To make matters more difficult, Chase had often used the same title for more than one work, so even compiling a solid exhibition history for some works proved a challenge. Eventually, Pisano was able to construct a list of Chase works held by museums and other institutions around the world, and to add to it many works in private collections, as well. One breakthrough occurred when Chase's grandson, Jackson Chase Storm, introduced Pisano to a trove of five hundred photographs of Chase paintings. Many of these photos had notations on the back, helping to identify portrait sitters.

A factor further complicating the catalogue project was the proliferation of fakes and forgeries that appeared after Chase's death. Chase was a well-regarded teacher, and many of his students emulated his style. False Chase signatures were sometimes added to these student works (presumably without the students' knowledge). These would then appear on the market, and remained in circulation thereafter. Over the course of his research, Pisano amassed an enormous image file of fakes and forgeries; these formed an invaluable resource against which the researchers could check works purported to be by the artist. (The files of fakes and forgeries of Chase works have been retained by the estate of Ronald G. Pisano.)

For each work he identified, Pisano created an object entry file that included a completed worksheet listing all known details about the work: title, alternate titles, date, media, dimensions, signature location, current owner, and subject matter. If the work was figurative, the form would indicate whether or not the subject was a family member, and if not, would identify the sitter, exhibitions and auctions in which the work had appeared, and references. Correspondence regarding a work, if there was any, was also included in the object file. Many entry files also included authentication reports that Pisano prepared for owners, galleries, and auction houses. In some cases, however, an object entry file would include only a minimal amount of information--a photocopy of a glancing reference to a Chase work in an exhibition review, or an illustration of a work from a periodical or book. Nothing else could be found out.

Pisano's untimely death in 2000 prevented him from achieving his goal of publishing the definitive catalogue on Chase, a compendium he hoped would serve as a fundamental resource for Chase researchers. After Pisano's death, however, a foundation was established by D. Frederick Baker--Pisano's companion of thirty years--and other supporters, with the foremost aim of completing the catalogue he had labored on. Digging into Pisano's files, Baker and American art historian Carolyn K. Lane organized and verified Pisano's research, added detail and expanded the search for owners. Pisano's authentication reports proved extremely useful. And, with the advent of the Internet, Baker and Lane were able to locate previously unidentified works, and to add to Pisano's lists of exhibitions, auctions, and references. The New York Times archives, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives, genealogical sites, and, most importantly, art historian William Gerdts's research library, served as valuable resources. The genealogical sites in several instances enabled the researchers to track down descendents of portrait sitters. One example of this was the Earle family, who had commissioned Chase to paint a number of portraits of family members. Baker and Lane located extended family who still had portraits by Chase hanging in their homes that had heretofore been unknown or unidentified. All of the information compiled onto the worksheets, once verified, was eventually published in the catalogue.

In the case of some works, however, the researchers were unable to add any new information to what Pisano had found. There were works about which little more was found than a work's title from an exhibition record. But Baker and Lane's goal was always to publish a catalogue raisonné that was as complete as possible, recognizing that there would be inevitable errors and omissions. It remains their hope that researchers will continue to piece together details that will further illuminate the life and work of William Merritt Chase.

With the completion of the fourth and final volume of the catalogue, the research files thus amassed and created over three decades were brought to the Kellen Design Archives to form this collection.
Ronald G. Pisano

Ronald G. Pisano was a curator, art historian, collector, and authority on William Merritt Chase. Born in New York City and raised in Huntington, New York, Pisano graduated cum laude from Adelphi University, and went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Delaware, where he wrote his dissertation on Chase's students. The dissertation was published in 1973 in the catalog for an exhibition Pisano organized for the Heckscher Museum of Art and the Parrish Art Museum, both located on Long Island in New York. From 1973 to 1977, Pisano served as curator of American art at the Heckscher, and from 1978 to 1982 he directed the Parrish, where he organized the exhibition, ''William Merritt Chase: In the Company of Friends." In 1979, Pisano was responsible for establishing the William Merritt Chase Archives at the Parrish. After leaving the Parrish, Pisano continued his Chase scholarship as an independent curator and appraiser, organizing exhibitions at the Parrish, the Art Students League, the Heckscher, and the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages.

Pisano published extensively on Chase and the American impressionists. His books include The Long Island Landscape: 1820-1920(Boston: Little, Brown, 1985), and The Tile Club and the Aesthetic Movement in America, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1979). With his partner, D. Frederick Baker, Pisano built a collection of 19th- and early-20th-century American painting and drawing--a number of these were donated in 1973 to the Heckscher Museum of Art.

Ronald G. Pisano died of esophageal cancer in 2000, at the age of 51.

Sources:

The history of the project was described in detail to the Kellen Design Archives archivists by Carolyn K. Lane.

Roberta Smith, "Ronald G. Pisano, 51, Collector And Expert on Long Island's Art," New York Times, December 31, 2000, http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/31/nyregion/ronald-g-pisano-51-collector-and-expert-on-long-island-s-art.html

Extent

15.1 Cubic Feet (11 records cartons, 2 DVD boxes, 4 folders)

Language of Materials

English

Scope and Content of Collection

The files in this collection represent several layers of research and writing conducted over a period of about thirty years, work that culminated in the publication of the Complete Catalogue of Known and Documented Work by William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), published in four volumes by Yale University Press between 2006 and 2010. Begun by Ronald G. Pisano (1948-2000), and brought to completion by D. Frederick Baker and Carolyn Lane after Pisano's death, the files include worksheets, correspondence with auction houses, museums, galleries, libraries, archives, and individual owners of Chase work; authentication reports; photographs of Chase work; exhibition and auction records; news clippings and articles by and about Chase; and photographs and correspondence from Chase's lifetime (largely obtained as photocopies from other institutions). The collection as a whole reflects the massive amount of work done by the researchers to track down, identify, describe, and authenticate works by Chase. During the course of their work, the researchers amassed an extensive group of records regarding fakes and forgeries of Chase works. These files have been retained by the estate of Ronald G. Pisano.

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in six series: I. Object entry files : In order of catalogue entry number; II. Research files by volume: Alphabetical by subject; III. General research files: Alphabetical by subject; IV. Clippings and articles: Chronological by publication date; V. Exhibition catalogs and records: Alphabetical by subject; VI. Digital media: By catalogue volume

Other Finding Aids

For selected item-level description and images from the Ronald G. Pisano project records for the William Merritt Chase catalogue raisonné, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at https://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/KA001001

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Fred Baker in 2002. A further 8.8 linear feet was received in 2010 from Fred Baker, including all documentation for Volume 4, and additional material for Series III. General research files.

Related Materials

William Merritt Chase's artwork is in the collections of museums worldwide. Institutions that hold archival materials related to William Merritt Chase include the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C., and the Parrish Museum, Southampton, New York. The latter includes over a thousand photographs relating to Chase's life and work, in particular family photographs of summers spent on the East End of Long Island. The Brooklyn Museum and the Morgan Library and Museum in New York each hold sketchbooks by Chase.

External Support

The processing of this collection benefited greatly from the participation of Carolyn K. Lane, co-author of the Catalogue Raisonné. Lane's work with the New School Archives was made possible by a gift from the Pisano/Chase Catalogue Raisonné Project.
Title
Guide to the Ronald G. Pisano project records for the William Merritt Chase catalogue raisonné
Status
Completed
Author
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
Date
March 12, 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin