To the Editors:
Susan Tallman, in her overview of “Cubism and the Trompe l’Oeil Custom” [NYR, January 19], makes reference to William Harnett and the late entry of American trompe l’oeil portray within the nineteenth century. I would really like Tallman to make notice of a portray within the American assortment on the Philadelphia Museum of Artwork by the eighteenth-century artist Charles Willson Peale: Staircase Group (Portrait of Raphaelle Peale and Titian Ramsay Peale I) (1795). The portray is eighty-nine inches excessive by thirty-nine inches broad, nearly life-size. The 1995 version of Philadelphia Museum of Artwork: Handbook of the Collections describes the portray:
On an unusually massive canvas, he made considered one of his uncommon full-length portraits, displaying two of his sons on an enclosed spiral staircase. Its excessive diploma of element and end exhibits that the portray was clearly supposed to be a trompe l’oeil “deception.” …To reinforce the phantasm, he put in the portray inside a doorframe in his studio, with an actual step in entrance. Rembrandt Peale, one other son, recalled that his father’s pal George Washington, misled by Peale’s artifice, tipped his hat and greeted the 2 younger males as he walked by.
American artwork was not such an “artistically unsophisticated” backwater as nineteenth-century Europeans believed.
Key Biscayne, Florida
Susan Tallman replies:
I thank Ruth Rosenwasser for her point out of the fantastic Peale double portrait in Philadelphia. Simply to make clear—my remark had particularly to do with the actual mode of still-life trompe l’oeil connecting seventeenth-century Europe, nineteenth-century America, and Paris within the 1910s. Sadly, I think that Peale’s ingenious pictorial sport would have struck most European cognoscenti as an indication, relatively than refutation, of American naiveté. Their loss.