Category Archives: What is So Interesting About That?

What is so Interesting about That?: “White Bowl with Fruit and Indian Jug” by Konrad Cramer

By Vanessa Nesvig
Coordinatorof Special Projects

This still-life painting has to it a bit more than meets the eye. Who does it remind you of? What style?

Kramer was a German born artist who fell in love with an American girl while studying art in Europe and the two came back to America and settled in Woodstock, N.Y. Though already an artist community, Kramer was a huge proponent of Modern art, and started a group there whose motto was “modern art or die!” A great teacher himself, his early influences were Georges Braque and Ferdinand Leger as well as the Blue Rider Group. This painting was painted after Kramer had seen an exhibition in New York of French artists. Look around in this gallery and you will see a Braque still life that has some similar qualities. The groups love of folk crafts is evident in the stippling and stencil looking designs, which was also interesting to Braque and his circle. See the Leger in this gallery and see if you can notice his influence as well on this Modern American painter.

Image credit: Konrad Cramer (United States (born Germany), 1888-1963), White Bowl with Fruit and Indian Jug, 1930, oil on board, 24 x 30 inches, Museum purchase with support from the Friends of the Collection, Director’s and Curators’ Hamill Acquistion Fund for American Art, and William McGonagle

What Is So Interesting About That? “Pine and Moon” by David Driskell


By Vanessa Nesvig
Coordinator of Special Projects

I always look forward to our monthly discussions about a work in the Museum’s collection or exhibitions called “What Do You Think”? Recently we sat and took a long look at Pine and Moon by David Driskell that we purchased last year. We had a large group, with lots of comments and opinions.
First we noticed, how the background has been divided by different fields of color, sometimes in linear rectangles. This patchwork of color gives a modernist feeling to a work that could almost be mistakenly thought was done outside with the tree in front of him. In fact, Driskell looks at the pines he loves every day, but when painting, is doing the form from emotional memory. This is how he feels about the tree, not a specific tree.

His use of color gives us the sense that it is spring and there is growth and renewal, because of this, people might elude to his Byzantine use of color. The moon looks as if in an eclipse, or how it looks on a sunny day when the atmosphere makes it indistinct, people might say it looks like the disc of an African mask. This piece is all of those things and none of them.

When looking up this work, I found out that it is one of only five pine trees he has painted in oil. He has painted pine trees since he was in graduate school, and in fact they were the theme of his graduate thesis, but all have been in other mediums. This was the last oil in his possession, him not wanting to let go of it for many years. This to me is the most interesting thing to know about this piece. Thinking about why he loved this piece so much, what it meant to him, what he saw in it. This gets us one step closer to truly understanding this artist.

What is So Interesting About That?: John Frederick Peto: “Rack Picture with Portrait of Lincoln”

By Vanessa Nesvig
Coordinator of Special Projects

This piece has a lot going on underneath the surface of its well painted trompe l’oeil façade. Not knowing much about this painter, I dug a little deeper for our “What Do You Think?” discussion group. Quickly I realized why I didn’t know much about the artist. It turns out that most of his life, and even after his death, people confused him with his much more prolific friend and mentor, William Harnett.

What is amazing to me is that he was ever confused with Harnett at all, since in a short period of time, you can see that their styles and subject matter are very different. Peto’s fault could be that he didn’t consider many of his pieces finished and so consequently didn’t sign them. Years after he had passed away, people thought they were the work of Harnett, and signed them as such.  That set Peto back another couple decades so that it was only recently that these works were discovered to be his.

This series, which was created towards the end of Peto’s life (his short life), featured painted versions of Abraham Lincoln (from a photo he had) and some ambiguous objects that were intensely personal and held great meaning for him. Having lost his father some years before, these images of Lincoln show some correlation between mourning his father’s death, and the nation who still mourned the loss of a President. Scholars have said the torn cards and ripped articles have “an undercurrent of violence and baroque restlessness.” This is something not seen in Harnett’s work. The “1864” scratched into the wood surface refers to the year Lincoln was re-elected, a year before his assassination, and the ribbon rack has a resemblance to the Star of David that is also seen in many paintings of his at this time. What do you think the dinner coupon suggests?

Next look at the Harnett on view, and then tell me if you think they look alike.

Image credit:John Frederick Peto (United States, 1854–1907), Rack Picture with Portrait of Lincoln, circa 1904, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Walter B. Goldfarb, M.D.

William Michael Harnett (United States, born Ireland, 1848–1892), Still Life with New York Herald and Butler’s Hudibras, 1880, oil on canvas, 11 1/2 x 15 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Walter B. Goldfarb, M.D. Photo by