William Michael HARNETT


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Status, price and estimation of the artist William Michael HARNETT

Price of a painting: 2,000 – 300,000€.

Price of a drawing and watercolour: 100 – 1,000 €.

If you would like to have a painting signed by Harnett appraised, our experts are at your disposal for a free appraisal.

Harnett and the art of depicting the inanimate

William Michael Harnett was born Clonakilty in the mid-19th century. His family left Ireland shortly after his birth and settled in Philadelphia, USA. The painter obtained American citizenship there in 1868.

His artistic training initially took place at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where the Harnetts took up residence. There he learned engraving. He later attended Manhattan’s Cooper Union College and the National Academy of Design in New York.

While he looks to 17th-century Dutch masters who were specialists in the genre, such as Pieter de Claesz, Harnett excelled in his own way at rendering still lifes. His practice was probably influenced more directly by the American painter Raphaelle Peale, considered to be the first 19th-century still-life painter in America. Harnett succeeded in rendering striking trompe l’oeil effects with an emphasis on detail.

Constant originality

Throughout his career, Harnett enjoyed dealing with common themes exploited in a fruitful dialogue with his friend, the painter John Frederick Peto – banknotes, books, musical instruments, firearms. The letter carrier also stands out in the production of these two artists.

Harnett pays a very special attention to these objects, which are not usually valued in painting. He gives them a dimension of their own by representing them in small formats, and thus distinguishes himself for his know-how.

Harnett travelled for six years in Europe, between London and Paris, settling in Munich from 1881 to 1885. It was during this European excursion that he painted his famous After the Hunt, an oil on canvas to which he returned in four versions. The neutral and shallow background is filled with inanimate beings and hunting objects. This painting impresses for its direct analytical style, one of the versions of which is kept in the De Young Museum in San Francisco. This work echoes the still lifes of Samuel Van Hoogstraten, a 17th century Dutch painter and art theorist.

Harnett: master of illusionism or deceptive art?

Harnett met his audience during his lifetime, when his paintings were a great success. This is counterbalanced by the heavy shadow of contemporary critics, who reproach him for some deception. After a period of discredit, the work of this fine painter was nevertheless rehabilitated, and his canvases were once again in demand in the 20th century.

His paintings now have a place in the most important institutions around the world, including the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The pictorial quality will never fail him despite an uneasy ending to his career.

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