James Chapin (1887-1975)
Young Ball Player
1933 (with later additions)
Oil on canvas, 44 x 34 inches. Signed lower right: "JAMES CHAPIN/1933"
15th Corcoran Biennial Exhibition of American Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1937), no. 357 (as Young Baseball Player); Pan-American Exposition, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, summer, 1937 (as Young Ball Player); James Chapin: Sixteen Years of Painting, Associated American Artists Galleries, New York, NY, February 26 - March 16, 1940 (no. 44, as Young Ball Player, 1933-35); “Play Ball! –The Art of Baseball in Paintings, Sculpture and Folk Art from the 19th Century to the Present,” The Crane Collection, Wellesley, MA, April 2-30, 2005; Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.
Time Magazine, March 11, 1940; The Studio, Vol. CXXVII, No. 615 (June, 1944), p. 176; Hittner, Arthur D., Art of Our National Pastime: A Collection of Baseball Art and Sculpture, 1875-2000 (Apple Ridge Fine Arts Press, 2008), pp. 5, 19; Hittner, Arthur D., "Art of the Thirties: Rediscovered Masters of the American Scene," Antiques & Fine Art, Autumn/ Winter, 2009, p. 166; Enduring America (catalogue); Speer, George V. and Arthur D. Hittner, "Enduring America: The Collection of Art & Peggy Hittner," American Art Review, May/June, 2015, cover (see Fig. 1) and p. 87.
Prescott, Kenneth W., James Chapin (exhibition catalogue, Yaneff Gallery, Toronto, Canada, 1980); Rubenfeld, Richard L., "James Chapin (1887-1975)" in Passantino, Erika D., ed., The Eye of Duncan Phillips: A Collection in the Making (The Phillips Collection in association with Yale University Press, 1999), p. 464; Pagano, Grace, Contemporary American Painting: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1945); Craven, Thomas, "American Painting," essay in The Studio, Vol. 127, No. 615 (June, 1944), pp. 170-184.
Acquired from James Cox Gallery at Woodstock, Woodstock, NY, as representative of the estate of the artist, October 11, 2000. Previously with D. Wigmore Fine Art, New York, NY.
Fine (later) 4 1/2-inch gold leaf frame.
Fig. 1 - Photograph of work as it appeared on cover of American Art Review, May/ June, 2015.
Fig. 2 - Uniform worn by Woodglen baseball club, c. 1935. Photo courtesy Township of Lebanon Historians, Hunterdon County, NJ.
James Ormsbee Chapin was born in New Jersey, where he remained much of his life. Forced by circumstances to begin earning a living before finishing high school, he worked as a bank runner during the daytime and attended art classes in the evenings at Cooper Union and the Art Students League in New York City. The financial support of a relative allowed Chapin to enroll at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, where he studied for two years before traveling to Paris. Infatuated with the work of Cezanne, he initially adopted the tenets of Modernism.
Upon his return to New York, Chapin became disillusioned with Post-Impressionism and sought to develop his own style and vision. By 1924, he had moved to rural New Jersey, renting a rustic cabin from the Marvin family, whom he portrayed in a series of sensitive paintings which won him critical acclaim beginning in 1929. A meticulous draftsman, Chapin typically created numerous preparatory studies before producing a finished work. In the case of many of the paintings which remained in his possession during his lifetime, he returned repeatedly, even years after completion, to effect minor adjustments he deemed necessary. This tendency is borne out by comparison of Young Ball Player with a photograph (Fig. 3) of what is presumably the same painting as it appeared in a retrospective exhibition of Chapin's work in 1940.
From the sandlots of small town America to the grandstands of Yan- kee Stadium, baseball was firmly entrenched in the American consciousness by the dawn of the Depression. Babe Ruth was a national hero and the national pastime offered a welcome distraction from the anxieties of everyday life. Chapin embraced the perfect American Scene subject matter with his homage to the local athletic hero, the fair-haired slugger whose exploits on the diamond were the stuff of local legend in cities and towns across America. Young Ball Player (alternately titled Swagger of the Young Ballplayer, Young Baseball Player or Baseball Player) is the earliest of four known works by the artist featuring ageless, semi-professional “bush league” ballplayers. The others, painted in 1940 (Batter Up, formerly in the Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection), and 1948 (Man on First, collection of William L. Gladstone and Veteran Bush League Catcher, collection of Dale C. Bullock) are similarly timeless in their appeal. Painted when Chapin was living in the rural New Jersey community of Glen Gardner (he also maintained a studio/residence in New York City), his subject wears the uniform of the nearby Woodglen, New Jersey town team (see Fig. 2).
Chapin exhibited widely (he had twenty-eight one-man shows during his lifetime) and is represented in many major collections, including the Phillips Memorial Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, Newark Museum and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he served as an instructor from 1935-45. A critic for The New York Times, reviewing the artist’s 1940 retrospective, wrote:
It establishes his position as second to none in our contemporary roster. It contains some of the finest paintings of our time. It . . . constitutes a full and ringing American challenge. In a word, this show is the real thing.*
Chapin's contemporary, the celebrated artist Grant Wood, praised "the stern honesty, solid technical construction and infinite human sympathy" characteristic of Chapin's best work.**
Although his style became somewhat looser later in his career, Chapin never abandoned the realist vision. Shortly before his death, he expressed a hope which reflected his enduring devotion to recording the American Scene: “that my own work may make some small addition to knowledge of the people of my era—a delight in their beauty and a formalization of gesture symbolizing some of their activities…” ***
*Time Magazine, March 11, 1940.
**James Chapin: Sixteen Years of Painting (exhibition brochure, Associated American Artists Galleries, New York, NY, 1940).
*** Prescott, Kenneth W., James Chapin (exhibition catalogue, Yaneff Gallery, Toronto, Canada, 1980).
Fig. 3 - Photograph of work as it appeared (under the title Baseball Player) in The Studio, Vol. CXXVII, No. 615 (June, 1944), p. 176 (photo from Associated American Artists exhibition in 1940).