Henry D. Morse (American, 1826–1888)
Still Life, 1872
Oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm)

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In this painting of three freshly killed game birds, a hanging fowl and two colorful ducks, one sees a kind of patiently detailed treatment of the birds’ luxuriant plumage, still glossy and vivid, as well as a frank attention paid to the way that game is hung up to drain after its beheading. These are objects of both beauty and utility, set against an austere brown background; the rusticated net bag used to hold them is shown hanging in deep shadow to one side of the picture. Morse’s painting evidences connections to an earlier 17th-century Dutch vanitas tradition of representing luxurious comestibles on the verge of spoiling as a reminder to viewers of time’s fleeting quality, but there is also a direct matter-of-factness more characteristic of 19th-century American still lifes.

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