The son of a doctor, Evans grew up in the Midwestern United States and taught at several schools in the region before traveling to France in 1877 to study with the famed academic artist William Bouguereau [08.186]. He returned to the United States the next year and became co-director of the...
The son of a doctor, Evans grew up in the Midwestern United States and taught at several schools in the region before traveling to France in 1877 to study with the famed academic artist William Bouguereau [08.186]. He returned to the United States the next year and became co-director of the Cleveland Academy of Fine Arts in Ohio. In 1887 he moved to New York and died eleven years later when the ship he was taking to Paris sank. Evans had many pseudonyms. Born David Scott Evans, Jr., he signed his early works D. S. Evans or D. Scott Evans. During his year in Paris with Bouguereau, he changed his first name to “De Scott.” He signed most of his trompe l’oeil still lifes with the names Scott David, Stanley S. David, or—as in the case of Free Sample, Take One—S. S. David. Scholars theorize that Evans signed his trompe l’oeil still lifes with pseudonyms in order to avoid the critics’ scorn for this kind of painting, reserving De Scott Evans for his more serious ambitious works.  Others argue that the still lifes are Evans’s best and most creative works, and suggest the possibility that the still lifes are by another hand.  Known primarily in his day for his images of elegant upper-class women, Evans painted a number of trompe l’oeil still lifes, including numerous versions of Free Sample, Take One and several other canvases in which he placed almonds rather than peanuts in the niche.  Nuts, usually in combination with other objects, had appeared in still lifes since the seventeenth century, but ordinary varieties like peanuts only came of age as a subject in the 1880s when they were given pride of place in the canvases of American artists, notably Joseph Decker (Hard Lot, 1886, destroyed), John Haberle [1984.163] (Fresh Roasted, 1887, private collection), and John Frederick Peto [62.278] (Peanuts―Fresh Roasted, Well Toasted, private collection).  It is believed that Evans executed his peanut images in the late 1880s or early 1890s, shortly after he arrived in New York. At that time, many American still-life artists were painting in a trompe l’oeil style, but here Evans carried the conceit further than usual by extending the painted wood grain around the tacking edges of the canvas. Thus the painting, which is not meant to be framed, resembles an actual piece of wood cut from a larger plank. To heighten the sense of actuality, Evans added nicks and chips to the wood and textured the top and bottom edges to create the illusion of the rough end grain. At first glance, the commonplace nature of the object combined with the teasing humor of the trompe l’oeil style suggest this is merely a charming and ingenious canvas intended to delight the viewer. However, the possible meanings of the image are not so simple or straightforward. The piece of glass over the recessed area evokes the age-old idea of painting as a window on the world—but cracked and broken, it simultaneously “shatters” that claim. Normally a piece of glass placed over an object implies its value and uniqueness and hence its need for protection, but Evans appears to satirize that notion by protecting nothing more than lowly peanuts, which look and taste virtually the same and can be infinitely substituted for one another. Evans contests the time-honored differences between painting and sculpture by making the canvas into an object. He also disputes the boundaries that ordinarily separate painted from real space by making it seem as if the modeled nuts and the shallow niche project into the viewer’s domain. Though the artist makes every effort to create the sense of an actual object existing in actual space, the glass-covered niche is―paradoxically―the product of his imagination since it corresponds with no known receptacle for displaying or dispensing peanuts. (Haberle and Decker, by contrast, placed their peanuts in jars and bins.) Thus the painter doubly deceives viewers, using the trompe l’oeil style to make them believe in the reality of a fiction. Finally, the image is as contentious as it is amusing. While the handwritten note encourages the viewer to sample one of the peanuts, the jagged edges of the broken glass threatens bodily harm to the person who take up the offer. Should he successfully remove on the peanuts, he runs the probable risk that the entire stack will come tumbling down. Evans leaves us wondering whether a previous spectator, irritated with the glass that denied him what the note invited him to take, broke the pane. Notes 1. William H. Gerdts and Russell Burke, American Still-Life Painting (New York: Praeger, 1971), 168. 2. Nannette V. Maciejunes, A New Variety, Try One: De Scott Evans or S. S. David (Columbus, Ohio: Columbus Museum of Art, 1985), 11, 18. 3. On the other versions of Free Sample, Take One, see William H. Gerdts, Painters of the Humble Truth (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1981), 203, and Maciejunes, A New Variety, 32n9. 4. On these and other peanut paintings, see Gerdts and Burke, American Still-Life Painting, 168, and Maciejunes, A New Variety, 7. This text was adapted from Karyn Esielonis, Still-Life Painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1994).
Lower right: S.S. David
The artist; with Sotheby's, New York, December 8, 1983, lot 50; with James Maroney; to MFA, 1984, purchase.
Emily L. Ainsley Fund