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MFA Images: Still Life

  • MFA Images: Still Life - Slide

  • Sword, Pistols, and Teacup

    1872 or after

    James Reeve Stuart (American, 1834–1915 American)

    Description

    Because so little is known of Stuart's life or patronage, one can only speculate on his motives for selecting the particular objects that appear in this still life. Stuart has depicted a porcelain teacup, saucer, and spoon; a pair of early eighteenth-century Queen Anne flintlock holster pistols; a sword, and a brown leather pistol case set against a dark brown background. He may have chosen them for their opposite meanings and associations: the delicate feminine teacup represents the domestic sphere and evokes images of genteel social occasions, while the guns and sword signal the masculine arenas of fighting and hunting. It is also possible that the objects were family heirlooms belonging either to Stuart, who came from a wealthy and aristocratic Southern family, or to a client. In this way, the still life would become a kind of portrait, an individual enacted through his or her possessions.

    Stuart attended the University of Virginia in 1852 and enrolled at Harvard in 1853 but did not graduate. During his time in Cambridge, he frequently visited the Boston studio of Joseph Ames, a specialist in portraits. In the late 1850s, he traveled to Germany to study art, becoming only the third American to enter the Royal Academy of Art in Munich when he enrolled in 1860. The Civil War depleted his family's resources and Stuart was forced to return to the United States. He opened his first studio in Atlanta, moved to Memphis and then to St. Louis before settling in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1872. He taught at Milwaukee College and the University of Wisconsin, but earned his living mainly from portrait painting. Since Stuart's work has not been systematically studied, the role of still life painting in his career is as yet unknown. Though he lived some distance from the centers of American artistic life on the East coast, the selection of objects and realistic style of this canvas suggests his awareness of contemporary currents in American still-life painting, particularly the tabletop still lifes of William Harnett [2000.2; 1999.257], who in the later nineteenth century often depicted valuable man-made objects. Such compositions reflect the Victorian vogue for collecting small objects, bric-a-brac, and antiques.

    This text was adapted from Karyn Esielonis, et al, "Still-Life Painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1994)

    Details

    Dimensions

    51.75 x 61.59 cm (20 3/8 x 24 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    48.478

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Old Models

    1892

    William Michael Harnett (American (born in Ireland), 1848–1892...

    Description

    To late-nineteenth-century viewers in an age of industrialization and progress, William Michael Harnett’s Old Models was a nostalgic tribute to the unhurried cultural pursuits of a bygone era. Harnett, the talented leader of the group of late-nineteenth-century illusionistic still-life painters that included John Frederick Peto [62.278] and John Haberle [1984.163], trained initially as a silverware engraver, which undoubtedly shaped his later precise style of painting. He then studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Cooper Union in New York before spending six years working in Munich and, for a short time, Paris. In Europe, Harnett examined in particular the work of seventeenth-century Dutch painters.

    Old Models is one of Harnett’s best compositions, representative of his trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) style and his typical subject matter. Harnett created the painting for display in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a great world’s fair to be held in Chicago. To ensure that his work would be noticed, he selected a large vertical canvas and composed a monumental still life that he crafted with brilliant technical virtuosity. Instruments, sheet music, and books—emblems of civilized leisure activities—are bathed in a golden light evoking such old masters as Rembrandt.

    An amateur flute player, Harnett owned a collection of musical instruments that he frequently used as props. The violin, realistically covered with rosin dust, was described in his estate sale as “Cremona Violin . . . ‘Joseph Guarnerius, fecit. Cremona, anno 1724’ . . . procured by Mr. Harnett at a great cost from a celebrated collection in Paris.” Although it was probably not a genuine Guarneri, the violin as well as the other objects appealed to nineteenth-century patrons fond of collecting antiques and bric-a-brac. The keyed bugle, dented and tarnished, was a simplified version of the instrument portrayed in several earlier works. Behind the bugle, Harnett included a tattered copy of 50 mélodies pour violon; the sheet music hanging over the shelf is Thomas Moore’s “’Tis the Last Rose of Summer,” a sentimental Irish ballad that evokes Harnett’s country of birth and perhaps alludes to the ill health that had dogged him in the preceding three years. Harnett also included Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Homer’s Odyssey, and a seventeenth-century medical reference book, all of which may also refer to the trials of his illness. The dusty, worn, and dilapidated objects are “old” in two senses: they bear signs of the passage of time, and they had been used as props in Harnett’s previous paintings. Likewise, they are “models” in that they are both subjects for artistic representation and exemplars of a contemplative and musical life. Old Models turned out to be Harnett’s valedictory painting, as he died of kidney disease in 1892 at the age of forty-four. Although the work was never exhibited in Chicago, it was shown posthumously at the St. Louis Exposition of 1896.

    This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).

    Details

    Dimensions

    138.11 x 71.75 cm (54 3/8 x 28 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    39.761

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Student's Materials

    about 1890–1900

    John Frederick Peto (American, 1854–1907 American)

    Description

    Peto's viewer has opened a doorway onto the dark corner of a private study. The initial impression is one of disorder. Books are stacked haphazardly, teetering near the corner of a simple, well-used table. An extinguished candle juts out of a wax-encrusted candlestick, which in turn sits precariously on top of an uneven pile of books and a pamphlet, open face down. A tobacco pipe is perched on the edge of the candlestick base. A ceramic inkwell rests on the green tablecloth, its label worn away. A few rivulets of dried ink stain its side. In the jar leans a frayed quill pen, a compositional counterbalance to the candle. Above it, a slim volume with a reddish-brown binding leans diagonally, its line echoed by the top and bottom edge of a book or journal at left that hangs rather curiously by a thread that, in turn, appears to be anchored to the table only by the weight of the stack of books above. This careless stacking of books, as if a scholar or student were lost in thought, suggests a disregard for material concerns and becomes an outward expression of intellectual reverie.

    The presence of the scholar is implied by his well-thumbed books, and by the pipe and quill pen--personal objects that are extensions of the scholar's hand. Both suggest traces of his existence: the smell of the pipe, the voice and hand of the author as transcribed in ink. Though the painting is purely visual, it suggests broader sensory stimulation. At the same time, these sensations have cased. By extension, the scholar is absent. The pipe and candle are extinguished; the pen is still.

    Contradiction lies at the core of this painting. The disarray of a chaotic heap of books that threatens to collapse upon itself stands in contrast to the orderly, precise nature of Peto's technique and, in fact, to the very conscientious effort he made to arrange and stack these materials just so. The unstudied, unplanned look of the still life is deliberate and intentional. Peto produced numerous compositions featuring similar elements, and often, identical objects, many of which can be found in period photos of the artist's studio.

    For all the apparent legibility of "Student's Materials"--it is cleanly and clearly painted to convey a sense of visual fidelity--the painting in fact withholds a great deal. The illusion of physicality, of materiality, dissolves readily into paint upon inspection. These books are closed to the viewer, withholding whatever information or knowledge they contain. Not a single legible word appears on the visible spines. Even the ink label has been obliterated. Suggestive and open to interpretation, the painting retains its inscrutability.

    Cody Hartley

    Details

    Dimensions

    51.75 x 41.59 cm (20 3/8 x 16 3/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    64.412

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Old Time Letter Rack

    1894

    John Frederick Peto (American, 1854–1907 American)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    76.52 x 63.5 cm (30 1/8 x 25 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    64.411

    Collections

    Americas

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  • The Poor Man's Store

    1885

    John Frederick Peto (American, 1854–1907 American)

    Description

    John Frederick Peto’s painting of a shabby but colorful storefront window belongs to the school of trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) paintings associated with William Michael Harnett [39.761]. It is an early masterpiece in a career that stretched from 1877, when Peto enrolled for a year at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, until his death thirty years later. While living in Philadelphia, Peto became friendly with Harnett and borrowed many of his subjects and compositional devices, although he worked in his own distinct, more painterly style. The canvas of The Poor Man’s Store depicts brightly colored candies, peanuts, gingerbread, and fruit for sale. It is surrounded by a wooden frame illusionistically painted to simulate a door, shelf, and wall.
    Such shop windows were characteristic of Philadelphia during the nineteenth century. A contemporary reviewer described one of Peto’s earlier paintings of the same subject in the Philadelphia Record in 1880:
    [Block quote]
    [It] cleverly illustrates a familiar phase of our street life, and presents upon canvas one of the most prominent of Philadelphia’s distinctive features. A rough, ill-constructed board shelf holds the “Poor Man’s Store”—a half dozen rosy-cheeked apples, some antique gingerbread, a few jars of cheap confectionery “Gibraltars” and the like, and, to give all a proper finish and lend naturalness to the decorative surroundings of the goods, a copy of The Record has been spread beneath.”[1]
    [/Block quote]

    It was not unusual for Peto to paint several versions of a theme, and the Museum’s picture seems to be similar to the painting described in the Record except for the presence of the newspaper in the earlier work. Instead, it has been replaced by signs advertising “Lodging” and “Good board $3.00 a week.” The metal numbered plaque hanging above the window, the piece of string, and the torn remains of notices were some of Peto’s favorite devices, each one painted to add to the illusionistic effect.

    Peto’s penchant for portraying humble, derelict objects in disordered arrangements may account for his lack of wealthy patrons during his lifetime. After working in Philadelphia, he moved to Island Heights, New Jersey, in 1891, where he was largely forgotten by the Philadelphia art world. In the early twentieth century an unscrupulous art dealer forged Harnett’s name on many of Peto’s works in order to sell them more readily. It was not until mid-century that the paintings were reattributed and Peto began to be appreciated as one of the preeminent still-life painters of the late nineteenth century.

    Notes
    1. Quoted in Alfred Frankenstein, After the Hunt: William Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters, 1870–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953), 102.

    This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).

    Details

    Dimensions

    90.17 x 65.09 cm (35 1/2 x 25 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas and panel

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    62.278

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Corkscrew Hanging on a Nail

    late 1760s

    John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815)

    Description

    Copley was much admired for his ability to depict material goods—rich velvets and satins, soft fur, and delicate lace. Although his portraits often included accessories such as fruit, flowers, or even a teapot, no independent still lifes survive except Corkscrew Hanging on a Nail. This small painting was cut from a doorframe in the Codman House in Lincoln, Massachusetts. In the late 1760s, Copley had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Dr. Charles Russell, a Codman relation by marriage and then the owner of the house. According to family tradition, on a visit to the sitter when wine was offered but no corkscrew was to be found, Copley responded by painting the missing implement on the wall. Rendered with Copley’s customary careful attention to detail, the illusionistic corkscrew, complete with painted shadow, appears to hang casually from a nail.

    Karen E. Quinn

    Details

    Dimensions

    13.65 x 14.29 x 2.22 cm (5 3/8 x 5 5/8 x 7/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on panel

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1970.223

    Collections

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  • Flowers, Butterfly, and Book

    17th century

    Unidentified artist (French, 17th century)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    26.67 x 36.19 cm (10 1/2 x 14 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on panel

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    47.1252

    Collections

    Europe

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  • White Flowers in a Bowl

    1885

    Berthe Morisot (French, 1841–1895)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    46 x 55 cm (18 1/8 x 21 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    48.581

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Musical Instruments

    Follower of Evaristo Baschenis (Italian (Bergamese), 1617–1677...

    Description

    Baschenis’s still lifes of musical instruments became so famous throughout Italy that, in the 1640s, he founded a workshop to produce copies and variants of his picture. The instruments depicted here are among those played by chamber ensembles that performed for invited guests in private homes. Many of Baschenis’s images are rich in symbolic meanings. The lute, for example, was the instrument of love, and many amorous songs were composed for it. Here, the dusty and abandoned lute and the hourglass also seem to function as vanitas elements, alluding to the passage of time.

    Details

    Dimensions

    34.9 x 54.3 cm (13 3/4 x 21 3/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on panel

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    49.1789

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Vanitas Still Life

    Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (Flemish, active in 1659–1675)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    84.4 x 78.1 cm (33 1/4 x 30 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    58.357

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Musical Instruments

    Attributed to Evaristo Baschenis (Italian (Bergamese),...

    Description

    Baschenis, who was a priest as well as an artist, was one of the first to specialize in still lifes featuring musical instruments. His choice of subject was undoubtedly influenced by the fine lutes and violins crafted in the towns surrounding his native Bergamo, in Lombardy.

    Details

    Dimensions

    72.4 x 98.5 cm (28 1/2 x 38 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    64.1947

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    Europe

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  • Still Life with a Guitar

    1925

    Juan Gris (Spanish (worked in France), 1887–1927)

    Description

    One of the leading Cubists, Gris always resisted the extreme fragmentation of form seen in the early Cubism of Picasso and Braque. In his still lifes of the 1920s Gris's aspiration towards a pure, "classical" Cubism is revealed in the clarity of his treatment of objects. In 1921 he remarked: "I work with the elements of the intellect, with the imagination. I try to make concrete that which is abstract. I proceed from the general to the particular, by which I mean that I start with an abstraction in order to arrive at a true fact."

    Details

    Dimensions

    73 x 94.6 cm (28 3/4 x 37 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    67.1161

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Musical Instruments and Sculpture in a Classical Interior

    Unidentified artist, Italian (Italian)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    96.5 x 131.7 cm (38 x 51 7/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    RES.13.3

    Collections

    Europe

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  • The Kitchen Table

    17[55?]

    Jean Siméon Chardin (French, 1699–1779 French)

    Description

    This still life of humble kitchen wares, and another depicting elegant serving utensils, were exhibited as a pair at the Salon of 1757. Close examination reveals that Chardin changed the position of many objects as he painted, evidence of his painstaking craftsmanship and determination to create harmonious balance in what appear to be casual groupings. The reworking of the mortar and pestle at the right is most apparent to the naked eye.

    Details

    Dimensions

    39.7 x 47.6 cm (15 5/8 x 18 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    80.512

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Butcher Shop

    1642

    David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, 1610–1690)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    Overall: 68.4 x 98cm (26 15/16 x 38 9/16in.) Framed: 88.9 x 116.8 cm (35 x 46 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on panel

    Classification

    Panels

    Accession Number

    89.500

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Still Life with Dead Partridge and Kingfisher

    Simon Peeterz. Verelst (Dutch (active in England), 1644–1721 Dutch)

    Description

    In his twenties, Verelst moved to London, where he established his reputation painting flower pictures and portraits for the court of King Charles II. His rare gamepieces usually focus on a partridge, an expensive delicacy that he painted with great sensitivity to detail, texture, and color. Although dead animals were routinely hung on the walls in Dutch kitchens and markets, Verelst avoided any reference to a domestic or commercial context, silhouetting his dramatically lit birds before a neutral, shadowy background.

    Details

    Dimensions

    74.6 x 62.9 cm (29 3/8 x 24 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    90.202

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Dead Birds and Hunting Equipment in a Landscape

    Jan Weenix (Dutch, 1642–1719)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    97.8 x 83.8 cm (38 1/2 x 33 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    41.744

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    Europe

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  • Still Life - Fish

    about 1900

    William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    113.03 x 142.56 cm (44 1/2 x 56 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    08.453

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Still Life with Violin

    1885

    William Michael Harnett (American (born in Ireland), 1848–1892...

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    54.93 x 45.08 cm (21 5/8 x 17 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on panel

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    2000.2

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  • My Mother's Hats

    1943

    Loïs Mailou Jones (American, 1905–1998)

    Description

    Jones studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and her earliest works are designs for textiles and costumes. In the 1930s, she turned to painting, continuing her studies in Paris. She taught at Howard University from 1930 to 1977 and in 1973 she was the first African-American woman to be given a one-person show at the MFA. This painting, which depicts three elaborate hats designed by Jones's milliner mother, is typical of her richly colored and freely-brushed style of the 1940s.

    Details

    Dimensions

    45.7 x 53.3 cm (18 x 21 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    2005.215

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  • Still Life of Bottles and Pitcher

    1946

    Giorgio Morandi (Italian, 1890–1964)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    25.1 x 45.1 cm (9 7/8 x 17 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    61.662

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    Europe

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  • Still Life with Carp

    Description

    After a painting in the Musée de Clamecy at Nevers

    Details

    Dimensions

    49.21 x 59.05 cm (19 3/8 x 23 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    63.1628

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    Europe

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  • La Cheminée

    1909

    Walter Gay (American, 1856–1937 American)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    54.61 x 45.72 cm (21 1/2 x 18 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on paperboard mounted on wooden stretcher

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    39.735

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  • Dollarfish and Sheepshead

    1860

    William Aiken Walker (American, 1839–1921 American)

    Description

    In the decades before the American Civil War, still lifes of fish and game could be found in many of the finer homes of Charleston, South Carolina, where hunting and fishing were popular pastimes among wealthy gentleman. Such paintings announced the owner's prosperity and his prowess as a sportsman. Walker, just twenty-one and limited in his formal art training, produced this highly naturalistic portrayal of two species of saltwater fish hanging on strings from square-headed nails. Shadows cast against the distinctive yellow of the Southern Pine planks suggest depth, completing the illusionistic effect.

    In the art of the United States, such convincing "trompe l'oeil" technique is more frequently associated with artists of the late nineteenth century, among them William Michael Harnett [39.761], John Frederick Peto [62.278, 64.411], and De Scott Evans [1984.86]. Working twenty years before those painters came to prominence, Walker's still lifes responded to an established regional tradition. Most prominently visible in Charleston during Walker’s youth was the work of Charles Fraser. A generation older than Walker, Fraser had painted similar game scenes of birds or fish hanging from square headed nails against pine board planks. Fraser's paintings were exhibited in Charleston in 1857 and two still lifes of Sheepshead were included in the display. Walker must have been familiar with Fraser's examples, or others of this type. Such still lifes occupied Walker for only a few years. After the Civil War, Walker turned his attention to the genre scenes for which he is best known. While his unabashedly derogatory portrayals of African Americans are troubling for modern audiences, these views of agrarian life in the Old South found a ready audience in the late nineteenth century among white Southerners who were nostalgic for the antebellum past.

    Cody Hartley

    Details

    Dimensions

    61.59 x 51.12 cm (24 1/4 x 20 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    48.485

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  • The Chinese God

    1919

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    76.2 x 63.5 cm (30 x 25 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    48.561

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  • Fruit and a Jug on a Table

    1916

    Jean Metzinger (French, 1883–1956 French)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    Overall: 115.9 x 81cm (45 5/8 x 31 7/8in.) Framed: 148 x 113 x 7 cm (58 1/4 x 44 1/2 x 2 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil and sand on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    57.3

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Still Life with Sweetmeats

    Unidentified artist, Spanish, 17th century (Spanish)

    Description

    The friezelike arrangement of tipped and propped confections suggests a display in a shop window. The boxes hold glazed fruit and candy and sticks of brown sugar; in the center is a broken piece of gingerbread. At the time this picture was painted, Spanish colonies on the islands of the Caribbean led the world in the production and export of sugar. Rare and expensive, sugar was available only to the privileged few, and this modest image by an unknown artist may have been understood as a status symbol or even as a proud reminder of Spain’s preeminence among European powers.

    Details

    Dimensions

    39.7 x 72.1 cm (15 5/8 x 28 3/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    62.172

    Collections

    Europe

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  • Free Sample, Take One

    about 1890

    De Scott Evans (American, 1847–1898 American)

    Description

    The son of a doctor, Evans grew up in the Midwestern United States and taught at several schools in the region before traveling to France in 1877 to study with the famed academic artist William Bouguereau [08.186]. He returned to the United States the next year and became co-director of the Cleveland Academy of Fine Arts in Ohio. In 1887 he moved to New York and died eleven years later when the ship he was taking to Paris sank.

    Evans had many pseudonyms. Born David Scott Evans, Jr., he signed his early works D. S. Evans or D. Scott Evans. During his year in Paris with Bouguereau, he changed his first name to “De Scott.” He signed most of his trompe l’oeil still lifes with the names Scott David, Stanley S. David, or—as in the case of Free Sample, Take One—S. S. David. Scholars theorize that Evans signed his trompe l’oeil still lifes with pseudonyms in order to avoid the critics’ scorn for this kind of painting, reserving De Scott Evans for his more serious ambitious works. [1] Others argue that the still lifes are Evans’s best and most creative works, and suggest the possibility that the still lifes are by another hand. [2]

    Known primarily in his day for his images of elegant upper-class women, Evans painted a number of trompe l’oeil still lifes, including numerous versions of Free Sample, Take One and several other canvases in which he placed almonds rather than peanuts in the niche. [3] Nuts, usually in combination with other objects, had appeared in still lifes since the seventeenth century, but ordinary varieties like peanuts only came of age as a subject in the 1880s when they were given pride of place in the canvases of American artists, notably Joseph Decker (Hard Lot, 1886, destroyed), John Haberle [1984.163] (Fresh Roasted, 1887, private collection), and John Frederick Peto [62.278] (Peanuts―Fresh Roasted, Well Toasted, private collection). [4] It is believed that Evans executed his peanut images in the late 1880s or early 1890s, shortly after he arrived in New York. At that time, many American still-life artists were painting in a trompe l’oeil style, but here Evans carried the conceit further than usual by extending the painted wood grain around the tacking edges of the canvas. Thus the painting, which is not meant to be framed, resembles an actual piece of wood cut from a larger plank. To heighten the sense of actuality, Evans added nicks and chips to the wood and textured the top and bottom edges to create the illusion of the rough end grain.

    At first glance, the commonplace nature of the object combined with the teasing humor of the trompe l’oeil style suggest this is merely a charming and ingenious canvas intended to delight the viewer. However, the possible meanings of the image are not so simple or straightforward. The piece of glass over the recessed area evokes the age-old idea of painting as a window on the world—but cracked and broken, it simultaneously “shatters” that claim. Normally a piece of glass placed over an object implies its value and uniqueness and hence its need for protection, but Evans appears to satirize that notion by protecting nothing more than lowly peanuts, which look and taste virtually the same and can be infinitely substituted for one another. Evans contests the time-honored differences between painting and sculpture by making the canvas into an object. He also disputes the boundaries that ordinarily separate painted from real space by making it seem as if the modeled nuts and the shallow niche project into the viewer’s domain. Though the artist makes every effort to create the sense of an actual object existing in actual space, the glass-covered niche is―paradoxically―the product of his imagination since it corresponds with no known receptacle for displaying or dispensing peanuts. (Haberle and Decker, by contrast, placed their peanuts in jars and bins.) Thus the painter doubly deceives viewers, using the trompe l’oeil style to make them believe in the reality of a fiction.

    Finally, the image is as contentious as it is amusing. While the handwritten note encourages the viewer to sample one of the peanuts, the jagged edges of the broken glass threatens bodily harm to the person who take up the offer. Should he successfully remove on the peanuts, he runs the probable risk that the entire stack will come tumbling down. Evans leaves us wondering whether a previous spectator, irritated with the glass that denied him what the note invited him to take, broke the pane.

    Notes
    1. William H. Gerdts and Russell Burke, American Still-Life Painting (New York: Praeger, 1971), 168.
    2. Nannette V. Maciejunes, A New Variety, Try One: De Scott Evans or S. S. David (Columbus, Ohio: Columbus Museum of Art, 1985), 11, 18.
    3. On the other versions of Free Sample, Take One, see William H. Gerdts, Painters of the Humble Truth (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1981), 203, and Maciejunes, A New Variety, 32n9.
    4. On these and other peanut paintings, see Gerdts and Burke, American Still-Life Painting, 168, and Maciejunes, A New Variety, 7.

    This text was adapted from Karyn Esielonis, Still-Life Painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1994).

    Details

    Dimensions

    30.48 x 25.4 cm (12 x 10 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    1984.86

    Collections

    Americas

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  • Study of Nut Shells, roots, etc.

    undated

    Jules Ferdinand Jacquemart (French, 1837–1880)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    23 x 25 cm (9 1/8 x 9 7/8 in.)

    Medium

    Watercolor on paper

    Classification

    Watercolors

    Accession Number

    21.11630

    Collections

    Europe, Prints and Drawings

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  • Vessel

    1993

    Olivia Parker (American, born in 1941 American)

    Description

    Olivia Parker's photographs question the supposed objectivity of the medium. She organizes juxtapositions of the real that lead us into fantasy worlds. Vessel is the simplest of constructions: a beautiful bottle filled with water and photographed in strong, natural light. The large scale of the print reveals a world within the bottle, both real and illusory. Tiny air bubbles punctuate the watery atmosphere, and shadows cast by the decorative bottleneck swirl about like lissome fish. But equally present is the reflection of a vaulted room whose windows look out onto surrounding trees. The bottle itself has no context. Floating against a black background, it is removed from reality, and its contents become an otherworldly message within a crystal ball.

    Details

    Dimensions

    Sheet: 50.5 x 43.2 cm (19 7/8 x 17 in.) Frame: 63.5 x 54 cm (25 x 21 1/4 in.)

    Medium

    Photograph, gelatin silver print

    Classification

    Photographs

    Accession Number

    1993.714

    Collections

    Americas, Contemporary Art, Photography

    Not On View
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  • Sèvres Vase

    1855

    Louis-Rémy Robert (French, 1811–1882 French)

    Description

    Louis-Rémy Robert was the head of the painting and gilding studios at the Sèvres porcelain works. This majestic depiction of a vase is part of a series of images that Robert exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, in Paris, to showcase outstanding Sèvres pieces. Robert set the vase against a display of drapery to dramatize its sculptural form and included a small measuring guide to indicate its noble scale. The vessel's gleaming surface, exquisite painting, and finely modeled detail are enhanced by the use of a glass negative yet softened by the matte surface of the salted paper print. Although made for publicity and documentation, the photograph itself achieves the status of an art object.

    Details

    Dimensions

    Image/Sheet: 32.0 x 25.7 cm (12 5/8 x 10 1/8 in.) Platemark: 39.1 x 33.7 cm (15 3/8 x 13 1/4 in.) Mount: 52.4 x 41.6 cm (20 5/8 x 16 3/8 in.)

    Medium

    Photograph, salted paper print from wet-collodion-on-glass negative

    Classification

    Photographs

    Accession Number

    1998.72

    Collections

    Europe, Photography

    Not On View
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  • Pea, English Wonder

    about 1895–1910

    Charles Jones (English, 1866–1959 English)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    Image/sheet: 10.8 x 15.1 cm (4 1/4 x 5 15/16 in.)

    Medium

    Photograph, gold-toned gelatin silver print

    Classification

    Photographs

    Accession Number

    2002.626

    Collections

    Europe, Photography

    Not On View
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  • The Shell

    1650

    Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669)

    Description
    Details

    Dimensions

    Platemark: 9.7 x 13.2 cm (3 13/16 x 5 3/16 in.) Sheet: 10.9 x 14.3 cm (4 5/16 x 5 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Etching and drypoint

    Classification

    Prints

    Accession Number

    P553

    Collections

    Europe, Prints and Drawings

    Not On View
    More Info
    Multimedia

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