For Sunday's Dinner

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William Michael Harnett
American, born Ireland, 1848-1892

For Sunday's Dinner, 1888

Oil on canvas
94.3 x 53.6 cm (37 1/8 x 21 1/8 in.)
Signed, lower left: "Harnett/1888"
Wilson L. Mead Fund, 1958.296

Still-life painter William Michael Harnett excelled at trompe l’oeil, painting that, through realistic depiction, fools the eye. In For Sunday’s Dinner, a rooster hangs illusionistically in front of a painted door with its throat cut and most of its feathers plucked—a few downy spots remain, contrasting with its puckered, pimpled flesh. The metal door hinges, on the right side of the canvas, frame the rooster and echo his form. The painting’s title and the rough, blemished surface of the door suggest a country dinner rather than sophisticated urban fare; the unpolished, homey meal nostalgically hints at a simpler past.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, National Academy of Design, Seventh Autumn Exhibition, November 19-December 15, 1888, cat. 44.

Phliadelphia, Wanamaker's Department Store, late 1888/early 1889.

La Jolla Museum of Art, The Reminiscent Object, Paintings by William Michael Harnett, John Frederick Peto, and John Haberle, July 11-Sept. 19, 1965, cat. 21; traveled to Santa Barbara Museum of Art, September 28-October 31, 1965.

Philadelphia, Peale Galleries of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Two Illusionist Painters, William Michael Harnett and John Frederick Peto, March 11-April 17, 1966, cat. 2.

New York City, Coe Kerr Gallery, One Hundred-Fifty Years of American Still-Life Painting, April 27-May 16, 1970, cat. 32.

Sacramento, E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, Munich and American Realism in the Nineteenth Century, October 28-December 10, 1970, cat. 37.

Cincinnati Art Museum, "Munich & American Realism in the 19th Century," April 20-May 28, 1978; traveled to Milwaukee Art Center, July 13-August 27, 1978; Sacramento, E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, October 28-December 10, 1978.

New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art, William H. Harnett, March 16-June 14, 1992; traveled to Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum, July 17-Oct. 18, 1992, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Nov. 14, 1992-Feb. 14, 1993, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Mar. 14-June 13, 1993 (New York only).

Art Institute of Chicago, Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine, November 10, 2013-January 27, 2014; traveled to Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, February 22-May 18, 2014, cat. 23.

Publication History

Alfred Frankenstein, After the Hunt, William Harnett and other American Still Life Painters, 1870-1900 (Berkley, University of California Press, 1953), no. 116.

Frederick A. Sweet, “Two Americans Paint a Still-Life,” Quarterly of The Art Institute of Chicago, 52, 4 (Dec. 1958) pp. 95-99 (ill.).

Art Institute of Chicago, Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 1961), p. 210.

Art Institute of Chicago, Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago (The Art Institute of Chicago, 1968), p. 216.

William H. Gerdts et al., American Still-Life Painting (Praeger, 1971), pl. XVI.

Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, One Hundred Masterpieces (Rand McNally and R.R. Donnelley, 1978), p. 105 (ill.).

Art Institute of Chicago. Pocketguide to The Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 1983), p. 37, no. 51.

Tom Armstrong, “The New Field-McCormick Galleries in the Art Institute of Chicago,” Magazine Antiques, 134, 4 (Oct. 1988), pp. 822-35, pl. XVIII.

Art Institute of Chicago, Master Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago (Little, Brown, and Company, 1988), p. 96 (ill.).

Doreen Bolger et al., William M. Hartnett (Abrams, 1992), pp. 57, 80, 88, 95, 166, 282, pl. 42.

Judith A. Barter et al., American Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago: From Colonial Times to World War I (Art Institute of Chicago, 1998).

Judith A. Barter, "True to the Senses and False in Its Essence: Still-Life and Trompe l'Oeil Painting in Victorian America," Museum Studies 31, 1 (Art Institute of Chicago, 2005) p. 40 (ill.).

Ownership History

John Hedges, Philadelphia, (not documented). Joann Kolodny, Baltimore, by 1953. L. Manuel Hendler, Baltimore; Baltimore Museum of Art, from 1957 to 1958; M. Knoedler and Company, New York City, 1958; sold to the Art Institute of Chicago, 1958.