R.A.H. (againstathorn) wrote,

Charles Bird King - Poor Artist’s Cupboard c. 1815

I’ll start kick off my Art for the Month of June with Poor Artist’s Cupboard, a relentlessly scathing still-life by American painter Charles Bird King. Perhaps best known for his portraits of Native Americans and Washington politicians, King also produced a handful of notable still-lifes. From both a technical and narrative standpoint, these works are marvelous examples of the genre and I encourage the reader to seek them out.


Object link: http://collection.corcoran.org/collection/work/poor-artist%E2%80%99s-cupboard

This particular piece, which I had the pleasure of viewing at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, is just brutal. Same at his Vanity of the Artist’s Dream , now in the Harvard Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum, King based this work on fictional artist C. Palette, showcasing the young man’s humble possessions and seemingly unrealistic ambitions of success. Among the items on display are debt collection notes, drafting tools, a serving of stale bread, and various books—most of which are dilapidated, although his Lives of the Painters, bound in a rich tome, looks to be in pristine condition. One should note the books titled Advantages of Poverty – Third Part, Miseries of Life, and Cheyne of Vegetable Diet. Given that Palette’s possessions are gathered in a single cupboard under a note indicating “Sheriff’s Sale”, the viewer is lead to conclude that the artist is deceased.

As this work contains several references to the art community in Philadelphia, scholars have theorized that King intended this piece as a statement on the city’s lack of support of the arts, but upon my first viewing of Poor Artist’s Cupboard I thought it perhaps a cautionary tale in the vein of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, which I read while majoring in Photography at Columbia College Chicago.

Could it be possible that King intended to poke some fun at his fictional C. Palette? Call me insensitive, but I’d like to believe he did.

On an added note, in the aforementioned Vanity of the Artist’s Dream there’s a letter from the Boston Athenaeum informing the artist that one of his works was mistakenly sold at half-price and that the buyer has refused to pay the difference. Ouch.
Tags: art for the month of june
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