William Michael Harnett, 1848 – 1892
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.
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:
So a Happy Birthday remembrance for William Michael Harnett, one of my earliest “favorite artists.”