William M. Harnett
In his short but productive career, William Michael Harnett (1848-1892) became the great American master of trompe-l'oeil still-life painting. His works, popular with the public long before they were appreciated by the art critics, "fool the eye" with their convincing, sharp-edged definition of form and careful rendering of materials. This volume provides the first thorough examination of Harnett's career and its significance for the history of American art. Twenty-two essays by a roster of leading scholars examine three major areas: Harnett's relationship to his contemporaries, among them painters, patrons, critics, and the general public; his formative training and experiences; and the meaning of his themes for the audience that supported him. These essays discuss not only Harnett's own technical skill and artistic development, but also the aesthetic issues of illusionism and trompe l'oeil, Harnett's relationship to other painters working in a similar vein, and the implications of his subject matter. Ultimately, the essays help to resolve the question of how Harnett's technically skillful imitations of real objects fit the definition of "art" and what his popularity says about the culture in which he worked and lived. Each of the editors has written an essay for this volume; other contributors include Henry Adams, Maria Chamberlin-Hellman, Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Elizabeth Jane Connell, William H. Gerdts, Elizabeth Johns, Judy L. Larson, David M. Lubin, Chad Mandeles, Roxana Robinson, and Paul J. Staiti. The forty-nine works reproduced in full color and arranged chronologically provide the first comprehensive survey of Harnett's work. A bibliography, chronology, and thorough index add to the reference value of this handsome volume.