John Haberle


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Painter. A still life specialist, he numbered among the most skilled and original trompe-l'oeil practitioners of the late nineteenth century. He addressed numerous subjects, often with a wry humor that complements the inherent jest of deceptive illusionism. Many of these paintings include commercially produced everyday objects, suggesting an interest in popular culture quite at odds with the sensibility apparent in most contemporary still life. Often, a barely controlled disorder in his compositions underscores the insouciance of this unruly subject matter. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, he was trained and then employed there as a lithographer. He worked at this profession in New York and elsewhere before returning to New Haven in 1880. There he also worked with paleontological materials as a preparator, designer, and occasional illustrator for Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History. After studying in 1884–85 at the National Academy of Design, he settled permanently in the New Haven area to concentrate on the trickery that sustains his reputation. His best-known trompe-l'oeil subjects include paper money, blackboards with chalk attached by a string, and assortments of flat odds and ends, such as playing cards, readable clippings, photographs, and envelopes. His extraordinarily precise technique fooled viewers into insisting that he had “cheated” in his deceptions by pasting in stamps, currency, or other intricately detailed items. His three versions of one subject, Torn in Transit, pose particularly sophisticated and amusing questions about representation. In these, a landscape painting seems to have been wrapped and tied for shipment, but the paper has been torn back to reveal the painting itself. The simulated painting, however, displays a broad, almost impressionistic style. Haberle thus presents the conundrum of precisely replicating a painting that represents nature imprecisely. Apparently because of difficulty with his eyesight, after 1894 Haberle switched to painting fruit and flower still lifes in a soft and painterly but accomplished style. He also tried his hand at undistinguished animal paintings, as well as modeling in clay.

Subjects: Art.

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