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Still Life (work of art)

Artwork Info

American (born Ireland)
13 3/4 × 10 3/8 inches (34.9 × 26.4 centimeters)


Gift of Ann and Jim Goodnight

Object Number
American to 1910

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • Still life paintings generally depict an arrangement of nonliving objects (such as fruit and flowers) with objects that contrast with them in texture (like bowls and glassware). This still life features books, sheet music, a flute, a quill and inkpot, a small blue vase, and an oil lamp. 
  • William Michael Harnett was best known for painting groups of objects in dark tones and with precise detail. Most of his paintings include objects related to writing, reading, drinking, smoking, hunting and/or music.
  • Harnett’s realistic style is an example of trompe l’oeil painting. Trompe l’oeil means “trick the eye” in French. Trompe l’oeil paintings create the illusion of real objects.
  • Music was a theme in Harnett’s work. Many of his paintings include sheet music and instruments.

Learn More

This jewel-like picture offers the pleasure of contemplative looking. Here we intrude upon the world of a cultivated and unkempt eccentric. We recognize a volume of Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Cervantes’s Don Quixote among the pile of old books. Both works address human and spiritual love. 

The sheet music includes an Easter hymn from a prayer book and a love aria from an opera. Further allusion to music and literature is made by the presence of a flute and an ink pot and quill. Taken together, the elements of the composition celebrate the enduring power of love and art.

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  • A still life painting of objects on top of a large green cloth that is draped over a piece of brown wooden furniture. The objects in this still life include books, sheet music, a flute, a quill and inkpot, a small blue vase, and an oil lamp. There is a dark wooden cabinet door and a dark brown wall in the background.

    Still Life