William Harnett

From Academic Kids

Missing image
William_Michael_Harnett_002.jpg
Violin, 1886
Missing image
William_Michael_Harnett_001.jpg
Colt, 1890

William Michael Harnett (1848-1892) was an Irish-American painter who helped pioneer a trompe l'oeil (literally, "fool the eye") style of realistic painting. He painted still lifes of common household objects arranged in such a way that the painting was to be mistaken for the objects themselves. These objects included musical instruments, firearms, and even paper currency, similar to contemporary John Haberle and successor Otis Kaye.

Overall, Harnett's work is most comparable to that of John F. Peto. An interesting comparison can be made between two paintings featuring violins. Harnett's, from 1886, shows the violin upright and in brand-new condition with a new piece of sheet music behind it. The elements are arranged in a stable, deliberate manner. Peto's 1890 painting shows the violin askew, as well as chipped and worn. The sheet music is dog-eared and torn around the edges, and placed haphazardly behind the instrument. Harnett's works indeed tended to emphasise an almost mechanical perfection, while Peto's were more reflective of human interaction.

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