Oil on canvas
48 x 52 3/4 in.
signed and dated l.c.: Painted to order \ by \ Wm M. Harnett. \ 1887.\ Studio. 28 E. 14th. St \ New York. [underlined]
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
Harnett, a prominent still-life and trompe l’oeil painter, created symbolic portraits of individuals using arrangements of personal belongings. In Ease, commissioned by a Massachusetts businessman, he offers a glimpse into the life of an upper-class Victorian gentleman, painting familiar possessions with an exacting realism. The accumulated items function as stand-ins for his patron’s emotional, intellectual, and spiritual interests, and they include a bible, a copy of Homer’s Iliad, sheet music, a fan, flute, and violin, and a pair of flower vases. Amid these items, Harnett introduces an unsettling narrative cue: A lit cigar rests on the table; left unattended, it has slowly burned a hole in the newspaper beneath it. “It fairly seems as if one smelt the fragrance of the smoke that rises,” one 19th-century viewer commented, “a little hurt, perhaps, by the mingling of paper odor.”
—Text taken from the Carter Handbook (2023)