Two peaches and two copper vessels—a tall ewer and a squat kettle—comprise the still-life arrangement pictured close-up in Frank Wadsworth’s painting. The color of the undefined surface on which these objects rest complements their muted tones of pink and orange, while the light green of the backdrop, echoed at the bottom edge of the picture, provides contrast. The narrow color range focuses attention on the varied surface textures of burnished copper and velvety peach skin. Like Alfred Jansson in his early Untitled (Still Life), Wadsworth selected ordinary objects and arranged them as if at random. In this small work, he rendered them in the rather loose brushwork and thinly applied oil paint characteristic of a quickly executed study. The confined vertical composition, slightly elevated perspective, and arbitrary cropping of forms at the edges of the canvas all suggest the influence of Japanese prints, which provided powerful aesthetic inspiration for many Western artists in the late-nineteenth century.
The painting’s original title is unknown. Wadsworth primarily painted landscapes as well as interior figural images, but early in his career, in 1896 and 1897, he exhibited a painting entitled simply Still Life at the Art Institute of Chicago and (presumably the same work) at the Cosmopolitan Club in Chicago and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. A Chicago newspaper praised it as “well in line with the earlier promise of this young man.”i Untitled (Still Life with Peaches) may well be that exhibited painting, for no other still-life images by Wadsworth are now known. Artists have long made still lifes not only as finished works of art but also as training exercises in which to work out of problems of rendering light, texture, and form. In the late 1890s Wadsworth was still a fledgling painter, particularly in the medium of oils. This work may have originated as an exercise for developing his skills in the medium.
Wendy Greenhouse, PhD
i “The Fall Exhibition,” Inter Ocean, Oct. 25, 1896.