But to me, shiny sculptural textures or impasto paintings were never the greatest temptations. I was always a sucker for trompe l'oeil. That's French. It's one of the first French terms I ever learned. It means "fool the eye". Actually it more accurately translates as: "It's real and I DARE you to reach out and touch it to prove otherwise." I must confess (first time I ever told ANYONE), I once reached out and touched a William Harnett. The painting part of a traveling exhibition and was called After the Hunt. I remember, I felt sooo naughty afterward. It WASN'T real, and to this day I still have trouble believing that incredible powder horn in the upper left section of the picture was just an amazingly smooth layer of oil paint on paper-smooth canvas.
Harnett wasn't the only American painter of the late 1800s to tempt me into such antisocial behavior, just the only one I ever succumbed to. I was always especially fond of John Peto's many "rack paintings" as they are called, canvases painted to look like wooden bulletin boards. Did you ever wonder how they fastened things to bulletin boards before they invented thumbtacks? No, probably not. Well, anyway, according to Peto at least, they tacked a geometric pattern of tightly stretched ribbon behind which was slipped the various flotsam and jetsam of daily life like artwork on refrigerator doors today. It's all there for posterity in his painting Old Souvenirs painted between 1881 and 1900...geesh, no wonder it looks so real, took him NINETEEN YEARS to complete!