Because so little is known of Stuart's life or patronage, one can only speculate on his motives for selecting the particular objects that appear in this still life. Stuart has depicted a porcelain teacup, saucer, and spoon; a pair of early eighteenth-century Queen Anne flintlock holster pistols;...
Because so little is known of Stuart's life or patronage, one can only speculate on his motives for selecting the particular objects that appear in this still life. Stuart has depicted a porcelain teacup, saucer, and spoon; a pair of early eighteenth-century Queen Anne flintlock holster pistols; a sword, and a brown leather pistol case set against a dark brown background. He may have chosen them for their opposite meanings and associations: the delicate feminine teacup represents the domestic sphere and evokes images of genteel social occasions, while the guns and sword signal the masculine arenas of fighting and hunting. It is also possible that the objects were family heirlooms belonging either to Stuart, who came from a wealthy and aristocratic Southern family, or to a client. In this way, the still life would become a kind of portrait, an individual enacted through his or her possessions. Stuart attended the University of Virginia in 1852 and enrolled at Harvard in 1853 but did not graduate. During his time in Cambridge, he frequently visited the Boston studio of Joseph Ames, a specialist in portraits. In the late 1850s, he traveled to Germany to study art, becoming only the third American to enter the Royal Academy of Art in Munich when he enrolled in 1860. The Civil War depleted his family's resources and Stuart was forced to return to the United States. He opened his first studio in Atlanta, moved to Memphis and then to St. Louis before settling in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1872. He taught at Milwaukee College and the University of Wisconsin, but earned his living mainly from portrait painting. Since Stuart's work has not been systematically studied, the role of still life painting in his career is as yet unknown. Though he lived some distance from the centers of American artistic life on the East coast, the selection of objects and realistic style of this canvas suggests his awareness of contemporary currents in American still-life painting, particularly the tabletop still lifes of William Harnett [2000.2; 1999.257], who in the later nineteenth century often depicted valuable man-made objects. Such compositions reflect the Victorian vogue for collecting small objects, bric-a-brac, and antiques. This text was adapted from Karyn Esielonis, et al, "Still-Life Painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1994)
Lower right: Jas. R. Stuart/Madison, W[isconsin]
The artist, probably until 1915; with John Levy, New York, 1944; to Maxim Karolik, Newport, R.I., 1944; to MFA, 1948, gift of Martha C. (Mrs. Maxim) Karolik.
Bequest of Martha C. Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865