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The 163d Birthday of the greatest Trompe L’Oeil Painter…

William Michael Harnett,  1848 – 1892

The Old Cupboard Door

The Trompe L’Oeil (“fool the eye”) Movement  of the late 19th Century produced some of the most amazing paintings in a style so realistic that the images looked like three dimensional objects waiting to be plucked off walls. Of all the painters in this movement, William Michael Harnett, whose 163d birthday is today, was undoubtedly the most accomplished.

As a boy, I first saw one of Harnett’s paintings in the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut – The Faithful Colt (the Colt Firearms Company was in Hartford) , painted in 1890:

The Faithful Colt

From Wikipedia:

Harnett was born in Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland during the time of the potato famine. Shortly after his birth his family emigrated to America, settling in Philadelphia. Becoming a United States citizen in 1868, he made a living as a young man by engraving designs on table silver, while also taking night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later, in New York, at Cooper Union and at the National Academy of Design. His first known oil painting, a still life, dates from 1874.

Another museum with a great Trompe LO’eil collection, including Harnett, was near my Connecticut home… the New Britain Museum. This is in its collection:

Still Life with Violin, 1886

So a Happy Birthday remembrance for William Michael Harnett, one of my earliest “favorite artists.”