Tag Archives: Still Life

Guns N’ Game: Harnett’s Masculine Still Life (Pinboard #2)

William Michael Harnett After the Hunt 1885 (source: Wikipedia)

An exploding cluster of hunting paraphernalia fans out from the central vein of an old wooden door with rusty metal finishes, such as a key hole in the shape of a Native American chief. The hunting gear includes a hat framed by antlers, a hand gun, a rifle, a walking stick, a knife, a flask, a satchel, a pipe and a brass horn whose loop anchors the clockwise visual reading given here. One rabbit and two birds are suspended by their feet. A small partridge hangs by its beak, radiating light that is otherwise subsumed by the shadows that darken the right side of the door.

The Irish-American artist William M. Harnett (1848-1892) painted four versions of After the Hunt between 1883 and 1885. While Harnett lived and studied in Munich between 1881 and 1885, he encountered both historical examples of Northern European still life painting, as well as contemporary revivals coming from the studios of artists like David Neal. Harnett submitted his 1885 version of After the Hunt, which was the largest and most baroque of the series, to the Paris Salon of 1885. The painting did not sell at the Salon, but rather found a buyer stateside in Theodore Stewart, who famously installed it in his Warren Street Saloon.

Harnett’s guns-blazing still lifes lend an important counterexample to the categorization of still life painting as feminine. Female painters and domestic subject matter have not monopolized the still life genre—clearly male painters and sporting subject matter have had a significant history as well. The irony is that Harnett’s showcase of antique, European hunting goods was intended to appeal to continental gentlemen, but wound up enchanting an American saloon owner instead. The salon to saloon trajectory of After the Hunt lays bare the currency that masculine subject matter had across institutions that were supposed to represent two distant poles in the hierarchy of taste.