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John Frederick Peto
Still Life with Green Candlestick and Book

c. 1890

$55,000

About

John F. Peto (1854–1907) Still Life with Green Candlestick and Book, c. 1890 Oil on panel, 6 x 9 in. Provenance: private collection, Philadelphia John F. Peto first began painting subjects of newspapers and food on table tops during the mid-1870s. He remained committed to these subjects for a decade, and offered several variations during the early 1890s. Peto’s early style was molded by the strong Philadelphia still life tradition cemented by the Peale family at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The illusionistic still life tradition popularized by the Peale family and adapted and refined by artists such as John F. Francis and Severin Roesen, provided Peto and his slightly older colleague William M. Harnett a platform upon which each artist would cultivate a unique style while still clinging to their Victorian sensibilities which favored rendering objects pertaining to daily life. While Peto varied both the composition and elements present in his still lifes, the background usually remained simple, unadorned, and dark in color. Still Life with Green Candlestick and Book embodies these characteristics of Peto’s later work where he reverts to including fewer forms, as well as maintaining a dark background. Peto scholar John Wilmerding discusses the aesthetic intention of Peto’s use of everyday items in his work, stating that “these objects belong to the comfortable and familiar environment of the modest Victorian parlor or kitchen. Items…in everyday use…breathe an air of quiet temporality” to Peto’s work. Wilmerding goes on to comment that in the majority of Peto still lifes the table upon which the objects are set is almost always parallel to the picture’s surface, as well as the way Peto maintained a small size of his panels and canvases as a means to enhance the intimacy of the scene he rendered. In this scene a candle nearly spent sits in a candle holder that shows the hardened drips of wax that run down the shaft of the candlestick. A well-worn leather bound book balances on the dish of the candlestick. The gold leaf of the spine is visible despite the book’s obvious age. A snuffer rests on an angle across the book’s cover, and a used match lies parallel to the table’s edge. This glimpse into the domestic items allows us to speculate about the long night spent reading by candlelight of the owner. However, by eliminating any signs of the larger interior, Peto has maintained an intimate narrative of these objects. John F. Peto’s work can be found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum, New York; Wadsworth Athanaeum, Hartford, Connecticut; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; and the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Phillips Collection, Washington, D. C.

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