William Michael Harnett

Artist Biography

William Harnett had a brief but remarkably successful career as the leader of the American trompe l’oeil school of painting. Born in Ireland to a family of artisans, Harnett studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Cooper Union Institute, and the National Academy of Design while supporting himself by working as a silver engraver. His technical acumen helped him to create deeply convincing still-lifes that moved critics to comment that “the management of light, shade and harmony of color in [his] works has reached a point of perfection, which amounts to complete illusion.” He quickly won acclaim by exhibiting at the Paris Salon, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Art Association, and the National Academy of Design. His work was the subject of a traveling exhibition mounted by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Amon Carter Museum in 1992; it can also be found in The White House, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid.

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