William Merritt Chase was born in Williamsburg, Indiana, in 1849, and was the oldest of six children. His father hoped that he would  inherit the family’s shoe business, but Chase, who said "the desire to draw was born in me," chose to follow his artistic ambitions. In 1867 he began his training with Barton S. Hays. Two years later he started to study at the National Academy of Design in New York under Lemuel P. Wilmarth.


In 1871 Chase moved to Saint Louis, where he painted still lifes professionally. It was at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied along many other Americans, including Frank Duveneck and later John Twachtman, where he received his most decisive training. As a leader of the young painters who challenged the authority of the National Academy of Design, he was a founding member of the Society of American Artists and, in 1880, was elected its president.


In 1886 he married Alice Gerson, who frequently modeled for him, as did their many children. Chase painted a wide range of subjects, including figures, landscapes and cityscapes, studio interiors, still lifes, and, increasingly later in life, portraits, and he worked with equal brilliance in oil and pastel. Chase died in New York City in 1916.