"Keying Up" - The Court Jester
William Merritt Chase
A medal winner at Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, this early work by William Merritt Chase established his formidable artistic reputation in America. It was painted in Munich, where Chase studied at the Royal Academy of Art and where such humorous costumed scenes were especially popular. The jester in Chase's painting, fortifying himself or "keying up" with a drink before his comic antics, is rendered with the artist's characteristic concern for color. The prevailing red not only enlivens the work but also underscores the jester's inebriated state, suggested by his prominent red nose. Extending the visual joke, the fool's head that the jester carries replicates his features with the same ruddy coloring. The homeliness of their faces is further mocked by the grotesque demon masks above them on the Renaissance-style cabinet. Fools were known as great mimics, and Chase himself was often praised for his skill in replicating a wide variety of colors and textures on the objects he painted. The work also shows the strong dark/light brushwork that was hallmarks of Chase's pre-impressionist work, reflecting his German training. Chase depicted jesters in a number of his paintings and reproduced this painting as a popular etching. A native of Indiana, Chase enjoyed artistic prominence and a long teaching career at a number of institutions before modernism rendered his style old-fashioned.