Only twenty years old when he painted “Still Life with Watermelon,” William Merritt Chase exhibited considerable skill in this, his earliest known still life. At the time, his formal training in art amounted only to modest instruction from two Indianapolis artists, Barton S. Hays and Jacob Cox. Even before embarking on his formal training in Europe, Chase demonstrated here, through his sensuous and elegant detail, how truly advanced an artist he had intuitively become. Chase lusciously rendered the juicy fibers of the watermelon, the slick mahogany of the table, and even the soft fuzz of the peaches with the richness of their actual textures. Chase continued to paint still lifes throughout his career, but his style evolved from precisely detailed representations to more freely stylized and loosely painted works.
This painting contains several pentimenti, which are traces of earlier compositonal elements that have been painted over, but have started to show with age. Derived from the Italian word “pentirsi,” meaning “to repent,” pentimenti demonstrate how an artist changes his or her mind during the creative process. Here, on the edge of the tabletop, a silver teaspoon that Chase had painted over is now visible.