The Old Violin
ARTIST William Harnett
CONDITION Chromolithograph printed in seventeen colors.
Sheet size: 34.5 x 24.75 inches. Full margins.
DATE 1887, The Donaldson Art Sign Company
Harnett is considered the father of American trompe l'oeil painting. In 1871 Harnett studied and exhibited at the National Academy of Design at Cooper Union in New York City. He also exhibited at the at the Philadelphia Centennial, then traveled in Europe and lived and studied in Munich for four years.
Shortly after his return to the United States, Harnett painted the Old Violin- the most famous of all his single object pictures. The picture caused a sensation at the 1886 Cinncinnati Indiustrial Exposition, where guards wre posted to keep the amazed crowd from touching the painting. In a bold and modern looking composition, the artist's personal items are arranged in a shallow picture plane, against a rustic green wooden door. An enigmatic still life was created with simple personal belongings. Paper objects included sheet music, a newspaper clipping and a piece of mail with stamps, postmark, and addressed with Harnett's studio in New York. The amazing virtuosity of the piece displayed the fine distinction in the textures of rust, varnished wood, foxed paper, and worn paint.
The paintng was purchased from Harnett at the exposition for $250 by art publisher Frank Tuchfarber who intended to connect with the celebrity of the painting and showcase his own printing talent. The resulting chromolithograph is considered on of the finest American chromolithographs produced in the nineteenth century, The Old Violin is an extraordianry achievement in the field of color printing. It was produced from no fewer than seventeen separate stones.. (This example retains the printers registration bar in the margin.)
According to Peter C. Marzio, the print exists with either Tuchfarber's imprint at the lower right or with the name of the Donaldson Art Sign Company as in this issue...although the relationship betweeen the two is unclear. "The questions remain" (p. 148.) while the compelling nature of the image remains constant.
ref: Peter C. Marzio, The Democratic Art: Pictures of 19th Century America (Boston and Fort Worth: 1979), pp. 147-148.