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 Peter McCallion  (fl.1890 - 1900)

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Lived/Active: New Jersey      Known for: trompe still life-money, figure, genre

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Ad Code: 4
Peter McCallion
from Auction House Records.
The Little Hatchet
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Only a handful of Peter McCallion's paintings have been identified, and very little is known about his life other than that he lived and worked in Lake Wood, New Jersey.  It is said that he was self-taught, and he clearly was influenced by John Frederick Peto whose works are very similar. (There is a Peto still life in the Warner Collection.)

Peto lived in a nearby community and exhibited his paintings at the local drugstore. They also hung in the shops and offices of his patrons, thereby providing McCallion ample opportunity to see them.  In fact, it has been conjectured that McCallion actually worked with Peto.

Peto and McCallion, along with William M. Harnett and others, were part of a large group of trompe-l'oeil artists in late nineteenth-century America.  They specialized in still-life illusionism, paintings in which the artist depicts on a flat two-dimensional surface a series of objects with such fidelity that the viewer thinks they are real. (The Treasury Department investigated Harnett for counterfeiting because his rendition of a five-dollar bill was entirely too well done!)

The trompe-l'oeil artists painted ordinary, even banal objects, often against the wooden background of a door or wall.  Some paintings were prankish, witty demonstrations of artistic skill such as Peto's "office boards" with letters and papers tacked on; others evoked irony or a mood of nostalgia.  Spurned by serious critics and collectors, the clientele for this kind of art came from less sophisticated folk. It was criticized, even in church sermons, because it lacked moral worth, and was appreciated only for its technical proficiency.  It has been described as a kind of folk art, and indeed, it hung in places such as offices, hunting lodges, and above the bars of saloons, presumably as a test of sobriety.  What we see today as a thoroughly modern concern with the play of shapes and colors and the organization of volumes in space was simply not understood.

The inspiration for The Little Hatchet by McCallion may have come from Peto, who about this time did a series of paintings that centered on another president, Abraham Lincoln.  However, it bears a striking similarity to a work entitled The Faithful Colt (1890) done in New York City by Peto's friend, William Harnett.  The Harnett painting shows an 1860 Army revolver hung on a nail at an angle against a barn door.  Beneath the gun and glued to the door is a clipping from a newspaper.

Perhaps McCallion saw The Faithful Colt in Harnett's studio where it hung until 1892, when it was sold.  Whatever its sources, The Little Hatchet is a small masterpiece of texture, color, and form, subtly organized and balanced.  Though little more than the invention of Mason Locke (Parson) Weems, the story of the hatchet and the cherry tree is brought to life with resounding clarity.

Source:
www2.wlu.edu/Warner_Collection/45more.html
Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia

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Peter McCallion is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Trompe l'Oeil Painting

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