A Closet Door

John Frederick Peto (1854–1907)

Object Details

  • 1904
  • Medium:
  • Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:
  • 40 1/4 X 30 1/8
  • Accession Number:
  • 1983.158
  • Artwork Credits:
  • Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Object Description

A letter rack, which held notes, cards, and other mementos, was a highly personal subject for trompe l’oeil painters that effectively served as a complex “portrait” of a patron or even the artist himself. This example by Peto seems less than humorous and offers a glimpse into the reserved painter’s private world. Age, decay, and collapse are the common strains running through this odd collection of objects, perhaps reflecting Peto’s own exhaustion as he slowly succumbed to painful kidney disease.

Educator Resources

Essential Questions

  • What is a still life painting? What are some of the characteristics associated with still life paintings?
  • What is trompe l’oeil? What are some techniques artists use to create trompe l’oeil paintings?
  • What choices does an artist make when creating a still life?
  • What information can you learn about a person from a still life?

Suggested Activities (1st–3rd grade)

Have students look at the objects in this painting and write a description of the person who collected them. For example, what does the collector does for a living? What does he or she do for fun? How old is the collector?

Suggested Activities (4th–8th grade)

Have students imagine this is their closet door and they have collected all of these objects. Students will write a journal entry describing their collection and why these objects are important. Be sure to have students describe the door where the collection is displayed.

Suggested Activities (any grade)

Ask students to design their own closet door in a manner similar to Peto. Have students think about the door they will use, what type of door is it? [Students may add any elements they deem necessary to give their door a realistic appearance. i.e. locks, handles, texture of the material] Students can consider selecting objects that answer the following questions.

  • Where are you from?
  • Do you have a favorite book or a book that you are reading now?
  • Who is an important figure in your life or that you admire?
  • Is there something that you used to love, but have now outgrown? Perhaps a trace of it will remain.
  • If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?

Don’t forget to have students add their name somewhere on the door.

Location: On View
Part of: Paintings