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The Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 9th Floor New York City, NY 10022 United States 212.535.8810
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$ 185,000

Harper's Weekly

Documentation Signed
Period 19th Century
Materials Oil on canvas
Dimensions
W. 16 in; H. 20 in;
W. 40.64 cm; H. 50.8 cm;
Creation Date 1892
Description Table-top and trophy still lifes composed of native fish and game, much in the manner of William M. Harnett, and landscapes depicting the area along the Brandywine River, were among George Cope’s favorite subjects. A Quaker from West Chester, in the Brandywine River Valley, Pennsylvania, George Cope inherited his mother’s talent for painting and drawing. He was a largely self-taught artist, and received his only formal art instruction, in the fundamentals of the oil technique, when he was twenty-one, under Herman Herzog (1831–1932), a respected Philadelphia landscape painter working in the academic realist style whom Cope met at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Under Herzog’s tutelage, Cope painted landscapes in the Barbizon style. The two artists traveled on sketching trips together to places in the West Chester and Pocono Mountains areas. In 1880, Cope opened his own studio in West Chester, where he advertised himself as both a painter and a teacher.

Cope’s early interest was mainly in landscape painting, which he pursued wholeheartedly until the mid-1880s, although he did paint an occasional still life of dead game. He married in Philadelphia in 1883, but settled in West Chester where he raised two children. Cope initially worked in obscurity, but by 1885, the local newspapers took notice of Cope’s work, and singled out his still lifes for high praise. Buoyed by these accolades, and undoubtedly influenced by the trompe l’oeil still lifes of Philadelphian William Harnett, Cope began to focus almost exclusively on illusionistic still lifes in a similar manner.

Cope’s still lifes are generally vertical arrangements of hunting gear or dead game hanging on the wall in the manner of William Harnett’s iconic After the Hunt paintings, or are groupings of more domestic items, such as pipes, newspapers, letters, and books, either arranged on a tabletop or tacked to a green felt background in a rack-type format. Cope delighted in the knotty surfaces of untreated woods, especially pine, depicting wood grain, nails, and hammer marks with painstaking accuracy. In the present painting, titled Harper’s Weekly after an edition of that periodical in the painting, Cope cleverly depicts an open writing desk with inkwell, in which the inside portion of the top is being used as a felt-lined tacking board, set against a pine board wall. Tacked to the board are letters to Caroline Darlington and Mr. William Darlington of West Chester, Pennsylvania. Also displayed within this setting are a candlestick, a pipe, a box of matches, the issue of Harper’s Weekly, a set of keys hanging from a nail in the wooden wall.

Harper’s Weekly is very similar to another still life by Cope, Mr. Darlington’s Still Life (1890, sold by Hirschl & Adler to the Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania, in 2005), which features letters to “Mr. C. P. Darlington.” In the late-1880s, Cope exhibited several of his still lifes in the window of Mr. Chauncey Darlington’s store in West Chester, including what is believed to be his first trompe l’oeil still life:

Artistic.—Mr. Geo. Cope, artist, exhibits today in the window of Mr. Chauncey Darlington’s store his latest and best canvas, the subject being a grouping of a hunter’s paraphernalia on an old oaken door. The picture is 33 x 46 inches and is well worth seeing. Mr. Cope has only recently given his attention to this class of subjects and his progress is certainly marked and very praiseworthy. This painting shows much painstaking study, while the general handling is vigorous and close to nature. It deserves to be seen by all lovers of art and we feel certain that the criticism of the public will be complementary to the artist (Daily Local News, April 6, 1887, as quoted in ibid., p. 15).

It is plausible that the “Mr. C. P. Darlington” to whom the envelopes are addressed in Mr. Darlington’s Still Life is Chauncey Darlington, and that Caroline and William Darlington are relations of his. Certainly Cope would have been thankful for the strong reception that his work had received when on view in Darlington’s store window. Unfortunately, though, it is impossible to be sure of the true identity of “Mr. C. P. Darlington,” as there was a large concentration of Darlington family members in Chester County, making it difficult to pinpoint which Darlingtons Cope indicated in the paintings. It is possible that the Caroline Darlington and Mr. William Darlington named in Harper’s Weekly are meant to be William Anna Darlington and Caroline Darlington, children of Clement (1811–1879) and Eliza Spealman Darlington (1800–1843) of Darlington Corner, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Whether these two people are related to either Chauncey Darlington or C. P. Darlington is not known.

Like most trompe l’oeil specialists, Cope recombined still-life elements repeatedly in different paintings. A similar work to both Harper’s Weekly and Mr. Darlington’s Still Life that was painted in 1890 and described in the West Chester Daily Local News featured almost the exact same set of items (painting is now unlocated):

Mr. George Cope has just completed to order a very excellent canvas for a Philadelphia party. It is 16 x 22 inches and represents an “old grandfather’s” clock, with a brass candlestick, box of matches, tobacco, pipe, a copy of Harper’s Weekly, several war time envelopes and a horseshoe, while the background represents some knotty pine boards (Daily Local News, October 20, 1890, as quoted in Gertrude Grace Sill, George Cope, 1855–1929, exhib. cat. [Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania: Brandywine River Museum, 1978], p. 21).
Styles / Movements Realism
Dealer Reference Number APG 8784
Incollect Reference Number 334049
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