John F. Peto, a late 1800′s painter, frequently featured books in his still life paintings. His style is very similar to a more popular painter of the times, William M. Harnett, who was also his friend. Peto’s art is often confused with Harnett’s, probably because Peto copied elements of Mr. Harnett’s compositions and occasionally signed his paintings as W.M. Harnett.
Job Lot Cheap, 1892, John F. Peto, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. This painting shares the title and “Job Lot Cheap” sign with the Harnett painting below. Image: Public Domain/Wikipedia
Job Lot Cheap, 1878, William M. Harnett, Reynolds House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Image: Public Domain/Wikipedia
Old Souvenirs, 1881-1901, John F. Peto, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Here is an example of Peto signing Harnett’s name to his own painting. The Metropolitan Museum notes on their site that this painting is signed “WM HARNETT 1881″ but that the inscription is false. Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Peto painted several pieces depicting a simple scrapboard created by ribbon strung tightly to hold souvenirs in place. It’s a display technique that is back in vogue, although now usually accomplished with fabric covered corkboard.
Still Life with Candle, Pipe and Books, date unknown, John F. Peto. You’ll notice that he is fond of dangling books. Image: Bob Swain
Take Your Choice, 1885, John F. Peto, National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. I bought 700 books last week that look eerily like these – tattered, torn, and jumbled. Image: Public Domain/Wikimedia
Still Life with Mug, Pipe and Book, 1889, John F. Peto. Image: Public Domain/Wikimedia
I started down this Peto path with a small black and white photo of a stack of books that I found buried on the pages of an an old art book. I never imagined it would lead me to an artist who had painted so many wonderful bookish pictures with names like Forgotten Friends and Old Companions. You just never know where you’ll find pretty books.