William Keane (American, active 1880–1895)
The Old Banjo, ca. 1889
Oil on canvas
39 ⅞ x 24 ⅞ in. (101.3 x 63.2 cm)


In Keane’s trompe l’oeil, a life-size banjo hangs on a wall, partly covering a page of sheet music. The instrument is surrounded by a man’s personal effects (maybe even the artist’s own): a crumpled hat, a peacock feather, a pair of photographs of two pugilists and a pretty girl, (as well as an empty spot where another photo or card has been ripped away), a drafting compass, and a sartorial bit of red plaid fabric. The viewer is presented with a set of evocative, masculine-coded objects, suggesting a haphazard, “slice-of-life” documentation of a bachelor’s reality. Their actual selection and arrangement by the artist, however, was undoubtedly more formal and intentioned.


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