Still Life

William Michael Harnett

Harnett first studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy and later at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. Too poor to afford live models, Harnett turned to still-life painting, becoming one of the leading 'trompe l'oeil' painters in America. Between 1880 and 1886 Harnett also studied in Munich and later in Paris. When he returned to America he settled in New York City, where he resided until his premature death at the age of forty-four. This still life is characteristic of his later work in the tightness of its execution and rather luxurious collection of tabletop objects. He acquired many of these props while in Europe, and upon his return to America, used them constantly. The sheet music and violin reflect Harnett's interest in music, while the worn books, tattered oriental carpet and chipped vase suggest the contemporary fascination with the past and its comforting values. The careful arrangement of objects on a tabletop recalls the seventeenth-century Dutch antecedents of American still-life painting. His illusionism was so convincing that Harnett was arrested in 1886 on a counterfeiting charge after exhibiting one of his paintings of a five-dollar bill.
Date of Birth
Oil on canvas
24 1/4 x 20 in. (61.595 x 50.8 cm.)
Accession #
Credit Line
The Vivian O. and Meyer P. Potamkin Collection, Bequest of Vivian O. Potamkin