Executed circa 1896.
Like many still life paintings, William McCloskey's Lady Apples in an Overturned Basket is at once a straightforward depiction of apples, as well as a complex and beguiling compositional exercise, exhibiting McCloskey's great skill at being able to convince us that a painting of ordinary objects in ordinary situations is worthy art. Apples, oranges and lemons in particular, and fruits in general make up the majority of McCloskey's body of work.
In the present work a large basket of apples is tipped over on the shiny wooden surface of a table. The central oval of the basket provides the anchor for McCloskey. Apples spill out somewhat randomly, but the basket's shape governs the painting and is reiterated by each of the apples, which operate as compositional reminders. The napkin lining the basket rigidly extends outwards from the rim, providing a frame for what little implied action there has been. Bisecting the picture vertically is the wicker handle of the basket, providing yet another visual balance.
In McCloskey's art, there is also a careful and calculated slight lack of symmetry. The apples have only spilled to the left side of the picture, and the basket's lining is illuminated from the left side, casting the right side into shadow. In general the apples on the right are redder, again contributing to the darker tone on that side and affecting how we experience the picture overall.
"The sense of 'rightness,' of careful balance, in McCloskey's compositions bespeaks Eakins, as does the sense of drama. McCloskey's fruit is richly colored and always dramatically lighted, so that it shines out within a darkness - dark background and dark wooden support - just as Eakins' figures glow radiantly from their surroundings." (W. Gerdts and R. Burke, American Still Life Painting, New York, 1971, p. 166).