John Frederick Peto USA
5-21-1854 Philadelphia, USA - 11-23-1907 Island Heights, USABack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
Although John Frederick Peto and the slightly older Harnett knew each other and painted similar subjects, their careers followed different paths. Peto was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at the same time as Harnett. Until he was in his mid-thirties, he submitted paintings regularly to the annual exhibitions at the Philadelphia Academy. In 1889, he moved to the resort town of Island Heights, New Jersey, where he worked in obscurity for the rest of his life and he supplemented his income by selling his paintings to tourists. He never had a gallery exhibition in his lifetime. Harnett, on the other hand, achieved success and had considerable influence on other artists painting in the trompe l'oeil genre, but even his paintings were given the snub by critics as mere novelty and trickery.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Harnett’s signature was often forged on John Frederick Peto’s paintings to fetch more money, as Peto’s work received little recognition at the time, while Harnett was well known, and his work commanded higher prices.
Both artists were masters of trompe l'oeil, a genre of still life that aims to deceive the viewer into mistaking painted objects for reality. The main technical device was to arrange the subject matter in a shallow space, using the shadow of the objects to suggest depth without the eye seeing actual depth. Thus the term trompe l'oeil—"fool the eye".
John Frederick Peto's paintings, generally considered less technically skilled than Harnett's, are more abstract, use more unusual color, and often have a stronger emotional resonance. Peto's mature works have an opaque and powdery texture which is often compared to Chardin.
Many of Peto's paintings reinterpret themes Harnett had painted earlier, but Peto's compositions are less formal and his objects are typically rustier, more worn, less expensive looking.