Peto completed Old Companions just three years before his death, and it summarizes his artistic concerns as a trompe l’oeil (a French term meaning “to fool the eye”) still-life painter. The work includes many of his favorite subjects: the pipe, candlestick, quill pen, inkstand, and books all appear in other paintings. Peto’s images often have a melancholy quality, and the objects depicted here are worn from heavy use or are in disrepair. The candlestick and several of the books, including one whose cover hangs from a single binding thread, are all placed precariously, as if to suggest the impermanence of life and human creation.
Although Peto achieved early acclaim in Philadelphia, he did not find lasting success. In 1889 he moved to Island Heights, New Jersey, where he played the coronet at religious revival meetings to earn money and occasionally sold paintings to tourists.