Raphaelle Peale (American, 1774–1825)
Blackberries, ca. 1813
Oil on wood panel
7 ¼ x 10 ¼ in. (18.4 x 26 cm)

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Born to America’s premier artistic family of the time, Raphaelle Peale is acknowledged by many to be the first painter in the Unites States to specialize in the genre of still life. Peale is most known for painting small, intimate pictures of fruit, dessert, and other comestible offerings on tables placed invitingly close to the viewer’s space, and meant to inspire contemplation rather than unlimited appetite. Isolated and intensely illuminated against an austere, darkened background, Peale’s blackberries appear very real, at once both modest and glisteningly vital. Their compact, beaded forms in different degrees of ripeness seem to float in bunches over the linearity of the verdant, striated leaves. American still life painting would have been understood by its 19th-century public to convey a host of moral, if not religious, associations. Some viewers might have interpreted the juicy red berries as evoking explicit Christian symbolism, such as the blood of Christ, and the visible thorniness of the wooden stem as Christ’s crown of thorns. Others might respond to the still life’s apparent suggestion of moderation and temperance as exemplary virtues.

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