William Michael Harnett (1848-1892)
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William Harnett was an Irish-American painter born in County Cork, Ireland. During the Potato famine his family relocated to America. Harnett spent much of his childhood in Philadelphia and became a United States citizen in 1868. As a young adult, Harnett made a living as an engraver. When Harnett realized his interest in art he enrolled in courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Harnett eventually moved to New York to continue his studies at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design.
Harnett remained in New York where he initiated his career as a still life painter. Harnett innovated a trompe l'oeil style of painting still lifes, in which he made everyday objects look hyper-realistic. Many Dutch painters had the concept in the 17th century, but Harnett was known for unusual choice objects in his still lifes. Harnett painted everything from musical instruments, horseshoes, guns, books and money.
Harnett went to Europe in the 1880s, where he painted many of his most-known paintings. Harnett returned to the United States when rheumatism slowed down his ability to produce work. Harnett spent the last years of his life in New York City.
During Harnett's lifetime his work was mostly sold to private collectors. Since his death, Hartnett's work has been purchased by major museums across the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Harvard University Art Museums, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the San Diego Museum of Art.
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