Still Life With Bric-A-Brac
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

This painting portrays a group of exotic objects from the collection of William Hazleton Folwell, the Philadelphia dry-goods importer who commissioned the work. Comprising genuine antiques, contemporary ceramics, and modern replicas, Folwell’s collection reflects the eclecticism of Victorian taste and the influence of the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition held in 1876. This international fair introduced Americans to objects from around the world and sparked widespread interest in collecting exotica.

Famous for his trompe l’oeil paintings, Harnett was among the most technically skilled painters in late nineteenth-century America. Few painters were as adept at rendering the surfaces of material objects. Here Harnett uses thick impasto to describe the incised surface of the torch stand, and staccato brushwork to define the woven texture of the tablecloth.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
William Michael Harnett, American (Clonakilty, Ireland 1848 - 1892 New York, NY)
Still Life with Bric-a-Brac
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States
Level 2, Room 2120, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Lure of the East
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 108.6 cm (32 x 42 3/4 in.)
framed: 94.6 x 120.7 x 7.6 cm (37 1/4 x 47 1/2 x 3 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: l.r.: W. M. Harnett / 1878
Commissioned by William Hazleton Folwell, Philadelphia, 1878. Purchased by Grenville L. Winthrop, New York, NY, 1942 [through Martin Birnbaum], gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1942.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Grenville L. Winthrop, Class of 1886
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
Publication History

Virgil Barker, American Painting: History and Interpretation, The Macmillan Company (New York, 1950), p. 576

Alfred V. Frankenstein, After the Hunt: William Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters 1870 - 1900, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA, 1969), p. 183, pl. 35

William H. Gerdts and Russell Burke, American Still Life Painting, Praeger (New York, NY, 1971), pp. 135, 138, reproduced fig. 10-5

Kenyon Castle Bolton, III, Peter G. Huenink, Earl A. Powell III, Harry Z. Rand, and Nanette C. Sexton, American Art at Harvard, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1972), cat. 89, ill.

Doreen Bolger, "Cards and Letters from his Friends": Mr. Hulings' Rack Picture by Wm M. Harnett, American Art Journal (1990), vol. XXII, no. 2, pp. 4-32, p. 13, fig. 9

Doreen Bolger, Marc A. Simpson, and John Wilmerding, William M. Harnett, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (New York, NY, 1992), p. 36, fig. 9; p. 246, fig. 112

David Lubin, Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven, 1994), p. 282, fig. 156

Timothy Anglin Burgard, American Art at Harvard: Cultures and Contexts, brochure, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1994), p. 12, cat. 75

Patrick Mauries, Le Trompe-l'oeil de l'Antiquite au XX siecle, Gallimard (Paris, France, 1996), pp. 270-8, pp. 274-5, ill.

Holly Edwards, Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930, exh. cat., Princeton University Press and Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (Princeton, NJ, 2000), p. 6; repr in color p. 4, fig. 1

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press (New York, NY, 2003), pp. 443-44, cat. 198, ill.

Stephan Wolohojian, Ingres, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Renoir... La Collection Grenville L. Winthrop, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 2003), pp. 457-59, cat. 198, ill.

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 137, ill.

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Virginia Anderson, and Kimberly Orcutt, ed., American Paintings at Harvard, Volume Two, Paintings, Drawings, Pastels and Stained Glass by Artists Born 1826-1856, Harvard University Art Museums/Yale University Press (Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT, 2008), p. 129-31, cat. no. 94, p. 130, ill.

Mark D. Mitchell, The Art of American Still Life: Audubon to Warhol, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia, 2015), pp. 38-39, repr. p. 38

Alfred V. Frankenstein, "The Harnett Story", San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, August 29, 1948), vol. 12, no. 17, pp. 9 - 12, p. 11, repr. p. 11

William H. Gerdts, "The Bric-a-Brac Still Life", The Magazine Antiques (November 1971), pp. 744-748, p. 747, no. 745, ill.

William H. Gerdts, "On the Tabletop: Europe and America", Art in America (September 1972 - October 1972), pp. 62-69, reproduced p. 68

Fogg Art Museum and Benjamin Rowland, Jr., Real and Ideal in American Art, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA, Summer 1948), cat. 16

Barbara S. Groseclose, "Vanity and the Artist: Some Still-Life Paintings by William Michael Harnett", American Art Journal (Winter 1987), vol. XIX, no. 1, pp. 51-59, footnote no. 24, p. 59

Exhibition History

Real and Ideal in American Art, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/01/1948 - 09/01/1948

American Art at Harvard, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/19/1972 - 06/18/1972

Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977

American Art at Harvard: Cultures and Contexts, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/01/1994 - 12/30/1994

The Persistence of Memory: Continuity and Change in American Cultures, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/29/1995 - 05/13/2001

A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 10/23/2003 - 01/25/2004

For Students of Art and Lovers of Beauty: Highlights from the Collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/16/2004

Re-View: S424-426 Western Art from 1560 to 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011

32Q: 2120 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

Related Works
Verification Level

4 - Best. Object is extensively researched, well described and information is vetted