William Michael Harnett

(1848-1892)

William Michael Harnett, born in 1848, studied art extensively and became one of America's leading trompe l'oeil painters of the 19th century. Harnett began his studies at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and then took night classes at Copper Union in 1871, continued at National Academy of Design in 1874. He later traveled to London, Frankfurt and Munich in the early 1880s. Harnett influenced a generation of artists despite his critically unpopular position and maintained a large audience and patrons. Harnett's first exhibit was at the Downtown Gallery, in NYC, 1929. His work can be grouped into two distinct categories. Harnett's earlier work (1874-80) consisted of small still lifes with intricate texture, a skill he developed as a silver engraver years before. In 1879, "The Artist's Letter Rack" came to represent the second stage of Harnett's painting career. A bulletin board covered in memorabilia mixes flat objects in shallow space to create illusionism. Harnett also received great acclaim for "After the Hunt" (1885), shown in the Paris Salon. Harnett died in 1892.