John Haberle (American, 1856–1933)
The Slate: Memoranda, ca. 1895
Oil on canvas
12 ⅛ x 9 ⅛ in. (30.8 x 23.2 cm)

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The dimensions of this small painting depicting a writing slate make it life-size, which pushes the trompe l’oeil effect a bit closer toward literalness. The flatness of the subject also toys with the interchangeability of illusion and reality. Only the frame of the panel and the chalk stick hanging on a string appear to have any dimension. The work exists as a clever palimpsest of textual signs competing for narrative authority. Pentimenti script declaring “My last slate at Wavertown. FRED” hints at a bygone, adolescent life once regimented by the academic strictures symbolically imposed (in the picture) by the professional lettering of “Memoranda” at the top. At the lower left, hovering over the artist’s own printed signature, “HABERLE,” is a crude stick figure–a schoolboy doodle–which underlines its vulgar distance from the “real” artist’s virtuosity and elevated status.

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