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The Winter Art Show

May 2024
1min read

John Frederick Peto apparently painted the card rack for himself: the letter is addressed to him at 1123 Chestnut Street, in the heart of Philadelphia’s artist community, where he lived in 1880 and 1881. This is a relatively cheerful composition for Peto. As the artist’s fame failed to grow with the passing years, his trompe l’oeil scenes become more forlorn and depopulated, their contents increasingly meager—frayed twists of string, burnt matches, scraps of paper. His contemporary William Harnett chose to include handsome things like violins and game birds in his trompe l'oeils and thus earned the greater glory in his day. But to an era whose sensibilities are more attuned to the vacancies of the abstract and the plaintive poetry of the commonplace, it is Peto who seems the greater artist.

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