Bernard Chaet (American, born 1924, died Oct. 3, 2012) was one of the great American Modernist painters, known especially for his expressionistic landscapes, seascapes and still-life paintings. His career spanned nearly 60 years and includes a long and distinguished history of prominent gallery and museum exhibitions. He was a chaired professor at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture and also served for many years as chair of its Art Department.
Chaet’s paintings are known for possessing enormous energy and artistic conviction. There is a sense of classicism in his work that gives it a subconscious connection with the past, yet one that is entirely free of constraint or convention. Tradition is juxtaposed with a clear feeling for improvisation. His pictures can be likened to a sort of visual jazz: riffs of loaded brushstrokes are pulled across the surface then released in lively syncopation; images are built layer upon layer with an obvious delight in the tactility of the paint.
In her essay for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition A Good Day for Painting at the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art, University of Richmond, art historian Isabelle Dervaux concludes, "Chaet has found the natural expression of the abstract ideas he pursues in his art, the balance of forms, colors, rhythms, and textures that best materialize his sensations and emotions on the canvas." A former student of Chaet’s at Yale, Frank Moore, wrote of his work: “Although it is keyed from observation, it is freed from the drudgery of simulation: it is allowed to sing.” Nowhere is the joy of song more evident than in the innovative, visual rhythms of land, sea and sky forms that populate his seascapes like musical notes in a score: the rocky bluffs, sandy beaches, majestic thunderheads, foaming surf, crashing waves and rushing water.
Lance Esplund wrote in Art in America, “His best landscapes are reminiscent of the lyric simplicity of Constable, and in the seascapes we sense a profound engagement with the motif that recalls his American predecessors Dove and Marin.” Other writers have noted a concern for structure inherited from Cezanne and Mondrian. His use of heavy line and voluptuous forms also suggests an aesthetic kinship with Philip Guston, Marsden Hartley and David Bates. His facility with color calls to mind the words of Andre Gide, who in 1905 wrote of Vuillard: “He explains each color by its neighbor and obtains from both a reciprocal response.”
This apt description of the magic that color can work in a picture at the hands of a skillful painter applies perfectly to Chaet’s work, which is now included in some of the most esteemed public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, the Brooklyn Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, the National Academy Museum in New York, among numerous others.