January 12, 2010 | As one of the foremost "imitative" artists—alongside William Michael Harnett and Frederick Peto—John Haberle occupies a distinguished position in the history of American art, and his work can be found in several important collections including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, where he lived for most of his life. Gertrude Grace Sill's new monographic study John Haberle: American Master of Illusion that accompanies an exhibition on view at the New Britain Museum of Art, which travels to the Brandywine River Museum in April and the Portland Museum of Art in September, brings to life his fascinating trompe l'oeil paintings, and delves deeply into the narratives that Haberle cleverly wove through his compositions of torn paper clippings, currency, and ordinary effects such as matchbooks and eyeglasses.
Offering extensive new research based on the artist's archives and interviews with relatives, Sill—a historian who has studied Haberle for more than forty years and has published numerous articles on his work—provides a complete biographical history, as well as presents a keen selection of critical voices and accounts from the period that contextualize Haberle's art in an important way. The book reproduces nearly fifty of his paintings that above all demonstrate the surprising variety of his subject matter and painting styles. Distinctive among these are his series of slate paintings, his series of partially unwrapped canvases, and his large-scale works such as Grandmother's Heartstone (measuring 8 x 5 ½ ft), and Japanese Corner (measuring 6 3/4 x 4 1/3 ft).
The Changes of Time, 1888. Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. Private collection.
The Slate, 1895. Oil on canvas, 12 x 93/8 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Henry H. and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund.
A Bachelor's Drawer, 1890-94. Oil on canvas, 20 x 36 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Henry R. Luce Gift.
John Haberle: American Master of Illusion is published by the University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire, 2010, softcover, 128 pp., $26. It is available for purchase directly from UPNE.