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Artist: Thomas Worthington Whittredge (American, 1820-1910)

Date: 1894
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall: 15 1/2 x 22 1/4in. (39.4 x 56.5cm)
Signed: Lower left: 'Whittredge' Lower left of center on tree trunk: 'W. Whittredge'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 65.28
Label Text
Peaches is a still life in the form of a “bough picture,” in which the fruit remains more naturally on the tree rather than set onto a table in an interior (although Whittredge undoubtedly painted the canvas in his studio). The still life subject matter is somewhat unusual for the Whittredge, who was renowned as a landscape painter.

Peaches is a later painting for Whittredge. As a younger man, he had traveled extensively in Europe between 1849 and 1859, studying art and living in Dusseldorf, Switzerland and Italy, in the company other expatriate Americans. Later in life he toured the American west and Mexico. Whittredge’s sketchbooks (which can be viewed online at the Archives of American Art website, are filled with the landscape formations, architecture, figures, animals, and birds that inspired his imagination.

Mary E. Murray, 2011
Text Entries

The affinity of landscapists for still life as a related investigation of nature is peculiar to the nineteenth century. For them, still life was a Sunday excursion under- taken with an obvious pleasure unshared by contemporary portraitists, to whom such details were perhaps too familiar to be enchanting. American landscape painters began executing still lifes as early as the 1820s, but, except for the remarkable flower pieces of Martin Johnson Heade, most are simple fruit arrangements painted between roughly 1855 and 1870.(1) Although distinguished by their freer execution, the fruit pieces by the Hudson River School painters are closely related to the American tradition of intensely observed still lifes culminating in the work of Levi Wells Prentice. They have the same intimate appeal and share a like concern for light and texture.

Worthington Whittredge’s first-known still life, Apple (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), dates from 1867, the year of his marriage to Euphemia Foote.(2) Within a year or so he also executed Autumn Guild (ex. coll. Douglas Collins, North Falmouth, Massachusetts). Both pictures are similar in style to Jasper Cropsey’s Green Apple (private collection) of 1865, but are unusual in showing the fruit still on the tree. Bough pictures form a rare subcategory in American art distinct from trompe l’oeil still lifes. Inspired by the writing of John Ruskin, most are nature sketches, although Whittredge’s canvases, like Joseph Decker’s, are obviously studio products.

Peaches is likewise a bough picture, but was painted considerably later. Unfortunately, the artist rarely dated his work, but the picture can be placed in the mid-1890s on a variety of grounds. Indeed, Edward H. Dwight, the former director of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art and a great Whittredge scholar, thought that he could make out the date 1894 (3) on the surface, and though this has not been verified, a date about that time is confirmed by other evidence. The canvas actually bears two signatures. The one at the lower left is by Whittredge himself and is typical in form for that decade. The other, running vertically up the tree trunk in the lower center of the picture, was written by his daughter Olive, who inscribed many of his late paintings even when they already bore his signature.(4)

The style of Peaches accords well with other works by the artist datable to the middle years of that decade. It must have been done around the same time as the water- color Laurel Blossoms in a Blue Vase (Edward Kesler, Philadelphia) of around 1893-95.(5) The execution has a characteristic freedom, especially in the background. Though there are signs of waning power in the loosest passages, this is a remarkable production for a man in his mid-seventies. The draftsmanship remains firm. Still intact, too, is Whittredge’s distinctive sense of color. As seen here, his palette retained its freshness to the end.



1. See William H. Gerdts and Russell Burke. American Still-Life Painting (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), pp. 101-11.

2. See Anthony F. Janson, “The Paintings of Worthington Whittredge“ (Ph.D. dissertation. Harvard University, 1975), pp. 88-89, 128.

3. Edward H. Dwight in discussion with the author.

4. Edward H. Dwight, Worthington Whittredge, 1820-1910: A Retrospective Exhibition of an American Artist, exhibition catalog (Utica: Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, 1969), p. 57, no. 34.

5. Illustrated in ibid., p. 63, no. 40.


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