Harnett was the most imitated and skillful still-life painter in late nineteenth-century America, celebrated for his many arrangements that pushed the art of trompe l’oeil (French for “fool the eye”) to its limits. While this complex composition may at first appear flat, it is full of depth and plasticity, emphasizing the tension between illusion and reality. The depicted hinged door is slightly ajar, and the humble objects hang on prominent nails, casting strong shadows. The instruments and torn sheet music for a popular Irish reel underline Harnett’s humorous sense of play as well as his Irish-American identity.
Mrs. P. N. Mathieu, Philadelphia, until 1941; sale, Samuel T. Freeman and Company, Philadelphia, 19 Nov. 1941, no. 21; with Downtown Gallery, New York, 1941–1943; Oliver Burr Jennings, New York, 1943–1963; with James Graham and Sons, New York, 1963