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The Artist's Letter Rack

Artist:
William Michael Harnett (1848–1892)
Date:
1879
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1966
Accession Number:
66.13
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 774
This is the earlier of Harnett’s two known “rack” pictures, a subject he and his contemporary John F. Peto had inherited from seventeenth-century Dutch painters. The wood boards of the background, the pink tape of the rack, the cards and envelopes that are tucked into it, and the surrounding paper scraps are all carefully delineated. Curling edges, subtle shadows, and distinctive textures tease the viewer into imagining that all the painted elements are real. A few clues suggest that the canvas was commissioned by someone associated with the Philadelphia firm C. C. Peirson and Sons, which dealt in woolens and hides.
Signature: [at upper left]: WMH [monogram] ARNETT / 1879
probably Clayton W. Peirson, Philadelphia, by 1892; Howard Reifsnyder, Philadelphia, until 1929; sale, American Art Association, New York, 23 Apr. 1929, no. 611; Leon Schinasi, 1929; his daughter, Mrs. Arthur Hornblow (nee Leonora Schinasi), Beverly Hills and New York, until 1958; with Robert Carlen, Philadelphia and Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York, 1958; Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman, Detroit, 1958–1965; with Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1965–1966
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