WILLIAM MICHAEL HARNETT (1848-1892)
WILLIAM MICHAEL HARNETT (1848-1892)
WILLIAM MICHAEL HARNETT (1848-1892)
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PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF MORTON AND NORMA LEE FUNGER
WILLIAM MICHAEL HARNETT (1848-1892)

The Imperial Eagle (Still Life with Bust of Dante)

Details
WILLIAM MICHAEL HARNETT (1848-1892)
The Imperial Eagle (Still Life with Bust of Dante)
signed with initials in monogram and dated 'WM Harnett./München./1883.' (lower right)
oil on panel
10 x 13 ¾ in. (25.4 x 34.9 cm.)
Painted in 1883.
Provenance
Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the late owners from the above, 1978.
Literature
D. Bolger, M. Simpson, J. Wilmerding, William M. Harnett, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1992, pp. 274n7-9, 292-93, fig. 141, illustrated.
J.L. Larson, D. Hoopes, P. Peet, American Paintings at the High Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 106n3.
M.A. Erhardt, E. Broun, The Norma Lee and Martin Funger Art Collection, Lunenberg, Vermont, 1999, pp. 20-21, illustrated.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

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Lot Essay

In 1880 William Michael Harnett arrived in Europe, where he increasingly focused his still lifes on musical and literary motifs. The present work showcases Dante’s Divine Comedy resting upon an Eastern carpet amidst a sea of other gentlemanly objects, including a bust of Dante himself. Set before a heraldic eagle emblem are a knight’s helmet, a bugle, sheet music for Franz Schubert’s Rosamund, and a text inscribed with the title Fantomes (referencing the title of Victor Hugo’s poem of 1829).

The combination of these specific historical references aligns with Harnett’s fascination with themes of courtly love and chivalry. For example, the sheet music likely refers to Rosamund, the concubine of Henry II of England, who was forced to end her own life due to the envy of the king’s wife. Dante’s Divine Comedy, in contrast, highlights Beatrice, the narrator’s divine love who guides him on a spiritual journey to salvation. Harnett may have intended “to contrast lust and spiritual love by juxtaposing…Rosamund, lewd and carnal, with Dante’s Beatrice, pure and godly…Harnett’s oeuvre celebrates the nobility of spirit attainable within an edifying framework of Christianity.” (J.L. Larson, “William Michael Harnett, 1848-1892,” Paintings at the High Museum of Art, 1994, New York, p. 106) Harnett’s careful selection of props communicates a pointed message that highlights his personal faith, as well as his overlying interest in reviving medieval chivalric, scholarly ideals.

The present work is related to Harnett’s nearly identical 1883 Still Life with a Bust of Dante in the collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia.

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