About the Artist
An industrious worker, William Michael Harnett (1848–1892) produced some 250 canvases in his 17-year career. His paintings were immensely popular with the public, who usually encountered them not in museums or galleries, but in saloons, department stores, and hotel lobbies. He is known for his precise brushwork and dark-toned subjects arranged on shallow tables or shelves. To enhance the illusion of his trompe l'oeil works, Harnett would often angle one object forward into the viewer's space; usually it was a newspaper, sheet music, or, as in The Banker's Table, an envelope. This compositional trick would also play an important role in his vertical still lifes: the shallow space forced elements out of the picture plane, making them appear as real, three-dimensional objects to the viewer, not once-removed painted representations.
This poster is a reproduction of the William M. Harnett painting The Old Violin (1886) from the collection of the National Gallery of Art. A triumph of trompe-l'oeil illlusionism, this is Harnett's most widely reproduced, most imitated, and most famous image. Folklore tells of police controlling the crowds attracted to its exhibition, particularly to restrain those who wanted to touch the painting to confirm the reality of its illusion. The Old Violin demonstrates Harnett's crisp, linear style with virtually no signs of brushwork. He used special tools and techniques to depict the hinges, news clipping, twine, and stamp.
- 38 x 24 inches