George Cope was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Aside from a long trip to the West Coast in 1876, he spent his life living and working in the Brandywine Valley. His father was a poet and mother had come from a family of artists and musicians. In the 1880s Cope made and sold landscapes and conventional table-top still-lifes. By 1887 he was painting trompe l’oeil (“fool-the-eye”) pictures and receiving favorable reviews for them. Cope set up a studio in West Chester with the aim of attracting pupils in 1889, which he advertised he would teach to draw and paint from nature. While he appears to have received a steady flow of commissions from patrons interested in still-life and local scenery paintings, the last decades of his life approached, in the words of an acquaintance, “bleak poverty.”
Spectacles is notable for its clear and direct presentation of a single object. The painting’s deceptive simplicity contrasts with Cope’s large scale paintings of dead game, hunting paraphernalia, and civil war mementos. Yet Cope’s scrutiny of the elegant eyeglasses in shallow space resulted in a dynamic play between cast shadows, magnified light and the lyrical line of the spectacles’ frame. This lovingly observed moment transcends its subject to become a meditation on realism, mindfulness, and vision.