102 Cedar Avenue, P.O. Box 1022 Island Heights, NJ 08732

About the Artist

John Fredrick Peto is recognized by the art world as an American master of the trompel’oeil or “fool the eye” school of still-life painting. He was born in Philadelphia in 1854, went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1877 and exhibited there that same year.

John F. Peto’s early work was greatly influenced by the tradition of still life painting established in Philadelphia at the beginning of the nineteenth century as well as by the early work of his friend and colleague William M. Harnett who was slightly older than him. The illusionistic paintings of Charles Willson Peale, his son Raphaelle Peale and the tabletop assemblages of John F. Francis and Severin Roesen were well known in Philadelphia and would have been familiar to him. Peto, however, following Victorian sensibilities preferred to paint mundane objects such as the daily newspaper, smoking pipes and mugs.

Peto’s work was neglected during his own lifetime and forgotten after his death in 1907 until the late 1940′s. Alfred Frankenstein, art critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, was researching the late nineteenth century trompe l’oeil movement and was curious about stylistic differences he noticed in some paintings signed by William Harnett. Frankenstein was able to identify about twenty paintings as works by Peto based on a comparison of style and choice of pigments. While both Peto and Harnett painted similar subjects, their styles are very different. Almost photographic in quality, Harnett’s work is noted for tight compositions, crisp brushwork, deep hues and a polished surface. Peto’s, in contrast, is more abstract with soft, painterly contours, thickly painted and textured surfaces, a concern for light effects and a bright palette. While Harnett’s paintings have an air of aloofness and control, Peto’s have a more emotional effect and–especially in his later paintings–make the viewer question the deeper meaning and motives behind the objects depicted.

Apparently, a Philadelphia based art dealer had purchased a number of Peto paintings and forged Harnett’s signature to them in order to obtain higher prices for them. Many of them ended up in the collections of major museums and private art collections. Frankensteins work, including an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1950 and his 1969 book, After the Hunt: William Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters, 1870-1900, brought John F. Peto and his work out of obscurity and to the attention of the art world and the public.

Today, John F. Peto is recognized as one of America’s foremost painters of trompe l’oeil still life. His works are represented in the collections of major museums throughout the country.