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John F. Peto

DATES April 12, 1950 through May 21, 1950
ORGANIZING DEPARTMENT American Art
COLLECTIONS American Art
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  • April 12, 1950 Fifty-two pictures by John F. Peto, one of America's most original 19th century painters of trompe l'oeil (or deceptively realistic) still life, are on view at the Brooklyn Museum in the artist's first one-man exhibition, opening to the public today, (April 12). It was preceded by a private view for Museum Members and guests on April 11 at 4 P.M. and will continue through May 21.

    Neglected during his own lifetime and entirely forgotten since his death in 1907, Peto was first rediscovered about a year ago by Alfred Frankenstein, art critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, who has prepared the catalogue of the present exhibition containing the first critical biography of the artist and has aided in the selection of the pictures. These cover the artist's whole career from his earliest known canvas, done at Philadelphia in 1875, to the impressive compositions of his last obscure years at Island Heights, New Jersey.

    Peto painted occasional landscapes and portraits, but devoted his main energies to sensitively balanced arrangements of old, discarded and outworn objects - a choice which may reflect his own unsuccessful career. The great interest in his work today, however, is caused by his unusual feeling for flat, nearly abstract design and by his very individual color harmonies of soft, powdery hues. In these respects, and in his more impressionistic handling of paint, he differed sharply from his famous contemporary, William M. Harnett, although his work has sometimes been confused with the latter's because of several Peto canvases which bear forged Harnett signatures.

    Peto was born in Philadelphia in 1854, studied briefly at the Pennsylvania Academy, and opened his first studio on Chestnut Street about 1880. In 1889 he moved to Island Heights, New Jersey, where he augmented his meagre income from art by playing the cornet at the religious revival meetings held there by the Island Heights Camp Meeting Association. His only know excursion elsewhere was a brief trip to Lerado, Ohio, in 1894 to paint a picture for the Stag Saloon. While his work was shown occasionally at the Pennsylvania Academy and in a few other places, he never had a one-man show during his lifetime.

    The present exhibition was assembled by three museums, the Smith College Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. It was shown at Northampton in March and after its showing at Brooklyn will be on view at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco from June 10 to July 9.

    The following museums lent works to the exhibition: Detroit Institute of Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Museum of Modern Art, Phillips Gallery and Wadsworth Atheneum. Also the following individuals lent works to the exhibition: Miss Mary Allis, John W. Barnes, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Mrs. Cornelius N. Bliss, Miss Bartlett Cowdrey, Dr. Donald M. Dougall, Mr and Mrs. Cheston M. B. Keyser, Howard Keyser, James M. B. Keyser, Mrs. H. Gates Lloyd, Nelson A. Rockefeller, Mrs. George Smiley, Victor D. Spark and Mrs. William M. Wood.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1947 - 1952. 04-06/1950, 034-5.
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