Still Life with the Toledo Blade

William Harnett1886

The Toledo Museum of Art

The Toledo Museum of Art


  • Title: Still Life with the Toledo Blade
  • Creator: William Michael Harnett
  • Date Created: 1886
  • Location Created: North America
  • Physical Dimensions: w665 x h561 cm (Complete)
  • Catalogue entry: Painted for Isaac N. Reed, a Toledo druggist, Still Life with the "Toledo Blade" features the domestic bric-a-brac—books, pipe, violin, and folded newspaper—that William Harnett often used to evoke the modest pleasures of leisure activities and gentlemanly commerce. The folded newspaper is the September 17, 1886 issue of the Toledo Blade; renamed The Blade, it is still Toledo, Ohio's daily paper. Reed probably asked Harnett to include the paper to indicate his hometown. In fact, a member of Reed's family may have been the Toledo Blade's managing editor. The reference was also a declaration of civic and regional pride, as the Toledo Blade was a publication of national reputation. One of the chief practitioners of still life in the nineteenth century, Harnett expanded upon the artistic tradition founded fifty years earlier by the Peale family (see 1951.498) in Philadelphia. Although enormously popular, he remained outside the established art circles, which regarded anecdotal scenes and landscapes more highly than still lifes. Most of Harnett's supporters were middle-class businessmen, self-made, recently wealthy, and unconcerned with fashionable taste. The pyramidal arrangement of objects, dark earth-toned palette, and the thinly applied, uniform brushwork of this painting are characteristic of Harnett's late work. Most of Harnett's admirers, however, were fascinated by his highly illusionistic, trompe l'oeil (literally "fool the eye") painting style, which intrigued, challenged, and sometimes boggled their perception of reality. A Toledo Blade article aptly expressed this admiration soon after Harnett painted the picture: "The highest triumph of artistic genius is in approaching the actual—in the perfect reproduction of the subject represented. This is a picture well worth seeing, and those who appreciate the true and the good will no doubt find pleasure in looking upon it."
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Rike
  • External Link: http://classes.toledomuseum.org:8080/emuseum/view/objects/asitem/121/35
  • Medium: Oil on canvas


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