HARVARD ART MUSEUMS
CHARLES BIRD KING (1785–1862)
The Vanity of the Artist's Dream, 1830, oil and graphite on canvas, 35-1/8" x 29-1/2" c. 1820-30 American painting frame; gilded carved wood; wide cove back edge, flat top edge, wide bevel to bevel sight edge. Unusual example. Molding width: 5” Frame gifted, in part, by Gill & Lagodich.
"In this humorous still life, King pokes fun at popular taste and laments the plight of the arts in America. A masterful example of trompe l’oeil illusion, the painting depicts a cupboard filled with the possessions of an ambitious and well-educated but financially unsuccessful painter. Brushes, drafting tools, treatises on art, and a cast of the head of the Apollo Belvedere, the celebrated antique sculpture, are crammed in next to stacks of unpaid bills, letters from parsimonious patrons, and a “last prize” medal. Behind the loaf of bread, a fictitious news report complete with typographical errors ridicules the unsophisticated tastes of the era, and makes clear that America was a difficult place for painters like King who wanted to emulate the arts culture of Europe in the new republic: The exhibition of a Cats Skin in Philadelphia produced TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS, totally eclipsing its rival the splendid portrait of [Benjamin] WEST by Sir T. LAWRENCE, the later we regret to state, did not produce enough to PAY ITS EXPENSES. OH’ ATHENS OF AMERICA." — Museum label.