William Harnett emigrated from Ireland to the US during the potato famine. Working as an engraver during the day, he took night classes at art schools in Philadelphia and New York…evidently to great effect! His still lifes fall under the heading of American Realism. While he did paint the obligatory musical instruments, tankards, and hanging game, it was his interest in the unusual (horseshoes, books, bills), and the trompe l’oeil precision of his renderings, that made him special. Ironically, his most famous paintings, a series called After the Hunt, feature a bunch of dead furry animals hanging from a door knob. I prefer this one. However, curators at the time didn’t appreciate his quotidian subject material, and his work found its way into more taverns than museums.
1892, Oil on canvas
Great (zoomable) image available: http://www.museothyssen.org/thyssen/zoom_obra/403