brown table with tacked sign at left "10 cents / EACH" and remains of a tacked sign at lower right; irregularly piled and stacked books on table different colored bindings; still life; reading/reading material
John Frederick Peto is most well-known for his still-lives of everyday objects. His work includes various items found around the late-19th century American home, from fruit and fish to candlesticks and tobacco pipes. One of the most common items found in Peto’s pictures, however, are books. To Peto and other Americans of the 19th century, books represented learning and refinement.
Peto surrounded himself with books in his study, and these commonly found their way in his pictures, both in still-lives and portraits. These books, however, are stacked in a haphazard way, and the books are very well-worn. Close to the end of his life, Peto painted multiple pictures of dilapidated books for sale. Some have attributed this arrangement to Peto’s thoughts on mortality (he was suffering from a kidney disease at the time), the difficulty of the art market (he sold very few works in his lifetime), or the end of the 19th century.
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