To honor and reflect on the work and influence of Bernard Chaet, the famed artist and School of Art professor who died last week, the school is launching an impromptu retrospective of Chaet’s students’ work over the course of this week.
Chaet, who oversaw the development of Yale’s art department into a top independent professional school, died on Oct. 16 at the age of 88, prompting Associate Dean of the School of Art Samuel Messer to display student work from Chaet’s time at Yale. The pieces date as far back as the 1950s and represent a wide variety of media and subjects.
Ranging from watercolor to charcoal and painting to pencil, the pieces reflect the breadth of technique Chaet taught. Some of the pieces are recognizable — one, for instance, depicts Raphael’s “School of Athens.” Other pieces are simple studies exploring depth perception, everyday scenes and abstract thoughts.
“In certain cultures, people are remembered by remembering them, and talking about them,” Messer said. “I think in that way it’s [just as] important to put the show up, as … who actually gets to come and see it.”
As an instructor of painting, Chaet spent much of life thinking about the act of painting itself, rather than just the subject of each piece; it was this focus on technique and style that he cherished, said Louis Newman, the director of the David Findlay Jr. Gallery in New York City and Chaet’s close friend and art dealer.
“He had an ongoing fascination with different kinds of atmosphere through the manipulation of paint and color,” Newman explained.
The works on display in the exhibit exemplified Chaet’s focus on painting technique. One piece, for instance, primarily explores the relationship between light and shadow in a still life. While the painting does depict several balls, these are not the focal point.
Newman said that Chaet’s time at Yale was known as the School of Art’s “Golden Era.” Loved and respected by his students, Chaet frequently imparted advice to “just keep painting,” Newman recalled. Chaet had many former students go on to impressive careers in art, Newman added, including Janet Fish, Chuck Close and Richard Serra. Others have become clients of Newman’s to purchase Chaet’s work.
A letter Storr sent to the School of Art community on Oct. 19 placed Chaet’s style into the painting tradition established by Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Seurat and Edvard Munch, among others. Newman added that Chaet was one of the last remaining members of the “Boston Expressionists” — first generation immigrants who brought a European sensitivity to their art in contrast to the New York group comprised of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Yves Klein.
William Bailey, Chaet’s close friend and colleague, explained that Chaet’s place within the artistic canon is, in a sense, even more valuable than his work as a professor.
“I think what will come out in the future is what a wonderful painter he was, how important a painter he was, far more important in art than as a teacher,” Bailey said. “His paintings got better until almost the end, and he’s been the subject of a number of exhibitions accross the country. He is one of the great figures in American art, and I think, I know, that hasn’t been fully acknowledged.”
Newman remembered how Chaet had once told him about a day he spent painting outside, which he usually did early in the morning to avoid the fishermen. One day, Chaet left later than usual, and a fisherman stopped by his easel, remarking on what a good day it was for both fishing and painting. Chaet looked over his glasses and said “everyday is a good day for painting.”
The retrospective will be on display in Green Hall until Nov. 4.
Correction: Oct. 25
A previous version of this article mispelled the name of Georges Seurat.