Virtually untrained, William Harnett painted trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) still lifes, arrangements of life-size objects rendered so realistically as to seem three dimentional. With Attention, Company!Harnett took the bold step of creating an illusionistic study of a child. This painting challenged the land-standing notion of Harnett as an artist concerned only with the outward appearance of inanimate objects with not the deeper meaning. “I endeavor to make the composition tell a story,” Harnett once
said of his art. But what narrative does he offer here in the face of this young boy, frozen at attention as a make-believe soldier, with his tattered clothes, his crisp newspaper hat, and the inscrutable graffiti-laden wall behind him?