Cherries and Raspberries in a Basket
Oil on canvas
Purchased through the Miriam and Sidney Stoneman Acquisition Fund, a gift from the Estate of Russell Cowles, Class of 1909, and through gifts from John W. Thompson, Class of 1908, and Dorothea M. Litzinger, by exchange; P.987.8
Self-taught artist Levi Wells Prentice grew up on a farm in upstate New York, and by 1873 he was listed in the Syracuse city directories as a landscape painter. He was best known at that time for his hardedged, panoramic landscapes of the Adirondacks. After four years in Buffalo, New York, he moved to Brooklyn in 1883. There Prentice joined the several Brooklyn artists who specialized in still life, including William Mason Brown and Joseph Decker, both of whom worked in a tight, realistic manner. Departing from the elegant still lifes popular at mid-century that featured exotic fruits displayed in vessels fashioned of glass, silver, or porcelain, Prentice typically arranged relatively common, humble fruits in everyday containers such as baskets, tin pails, and felt hats, often set outdoors. Such subjects had widespread appeal for members of a growing middle class who were eager to decorate their homes with art. In this tabletop composition Prentice presents an artful arrangement of three splint berry baskets that are full, half full, and empty, perhaps suggesting the passage of time. He compresses the background with a screen of cherry branches and pushes the composition forward into the viewer’s space with leaves that curl over the front edge of the table. Prentice’s linear, idealized style (evidenced by the larger-than-life, pristine raspberries) and brilliant coloration seem in some ways naïve. Yet the sophisticated lighting effects and carefully contrived composition belie the artist’s apparent lack of formal training.
Last Updated: 4/29/09