Painted in 1880, Bric-a-Brac Still Life represents the apex of George Henry Hall's still-life oeuvre. Though Hall's interest in exotic subjects was mostly confined to his genre pictures, in the present work, he takes on a challenging arrangement of objects on a large scale as a demonstration of his technical skill. Bric-a-Brac Still Life of Damascus, Seville and Rome (1880), a similar composition by the artist, was extremely well received when it was shown in 1881 at the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition. At the time Hall's still lifes were held up as a model for aspiring artists.
Bric-a-Brac Still Life reflects Hall's interests in both intricate textures and brilliant coloristic arrangements. As Wolfgang Born wrote of a similar work, "Hall shares the tonal attitudes of his contemporaries. In this tonal composition Chiaroscuro prevails, serving to fuse the parts into a picturesque visual experience." (Still-Life Painting in America, New York, 1947, p. 26) Hall was known for his eclectic juxtapositions of objects, which satisfied his fascination with variety and beauty. Hall executed only a handful of works that approach this scale and complexity. Most of the artist's compositions of this period are significantly smaller and more conservative depictions, which demonstrate his meticulous realism and attention to detail. By virtue of its scale, however, Bric-a-Brac Still Life emphasizes the artist's romantic vision more than his meticulousness. As Born observed, "Hall does everything to obliterate the geometrical character of arrangement and to stress subjectivity." (Still-Life Painting in America, p. 26) Nowhere is this nostalgic subjectivity more evident than in Bric-a-Brac Still Life with its soft fabrics and diffuse light.