|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|John Haberle became a trompe l'oeil still life painter of subjects that
aroused merriment, a sense of abandon, and wacky humor. He spent most
of his life in or near his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, where he
worked as an engraver, draftsman, and lithographer, and as a custodian
and preparator at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History. |
produced about forty extremely detailed trompe-l'oeil pictures between
the mid-1880s and the late 1890s, before deteriorating eyesight forced
him to give up painting.
He taught drawing lessons, founded the
New Haven Sketch Club, and exhibited his works at local bookstores,
saloons, and hotels as well as at prestigious exhibitions at the
National Academy of Design in New York and the Pennsylvania Academy of
the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.
One of his trompe l'oeil
paintings, Time and Eternity, ca. 1890, is exquisitely painted and
extremely detailed, designed to trick the eye into thinking that these
are real, not painted, objects. The illusion is aided by the shallow
spatial format and by the absolute clarity and precision with which the
objects are painted.
The objects hanging from this rough
surface would have been familiar to Haberle's audience. The cracked
pocket watch becomes a symbol of the fleeting quality of time, a
reference to the traditional vanitas still lifes of the Dutch and
Flemish Baroque masters. The playing cards, pawn tickets, betting
receipts, and girlie photo are the detritus of daily life; juxtaposed
with the rosary they are an obvious contrast between the temporal and
the spiritual, the here and now and the hereafter. Haberle's torn,
ragged scraps of paper currency also refer to the passage of time; the
word GRAVE (part of the word engraved) is a blatant reference to death,
emphasized by the scrap's proximity to the crucifix.
moralizing message of the painting is obvious, yet Haberle, in his
paintings, often added a note of complexity to the mix by addressing
current events. By juxtaposing traditional symbols of vanitas with
references to well-known public controversies, Haberle has asked his
audience to think for themselves on the profound philosophical and
scientific issues that were filtering through late-nineteenth-century
The extreme detail and realism made trompe-l'oeils
hugely popular with the public, but late nineteenth-century art critics
derided such works as mere parlor tricks which lacked art.
Haberle's works aim not only to fool the eye, but are often ingenious,
extremely witty, and entertaining. A rebus waiting to be deciphered,
they are an expression of the social and political ideas of the
Margaret Stenz, "Time and Eternity", in New Britain Museum of American Art: Highlights of the Collection, Volume 1 (Munich and New York: Prestel, 1999), pp. 76-77.
After the Hunt:
William Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters. (Berkeley, Los
Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1953; rev. ed.,
Gertrude Grace Sill. John Haberle: Master of Illusion.
Exhibition Catalogue. (Springfield, Massachusetts: Museum of Fine Arts,
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John Haberle is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Trompe l'Oeil Painting