In an email exchange this week with Kay O. Freeman, I learned something new - the American trompe l'oeil painter William Harnett also worked as an engraver of medals. I became familiar with Harnett's work while collecting the work of money artist J.S.G. Boggs. Harnett's lifelike paintings depicting currency drew the ire of the U.S. Secret Service a century before Boggs attracted their attention.
Kay forwarded a link to the following scrapbook of information on Harnett.
Harnett began his career as an engraver in Philadelphia in 1865 at the age of seventeen, working on steel, copper, and wood and eventually becoming an accomplished engraver of silver flatware.
After moving to New York in 1869, he was employed by several silver manufacturers, including Tiffany and Company and Wood and Hughes, where he shared a workbench with Blemly, a fellow engraver. Harnett and Blemly became lifelong friends, and over the years Harnett presented the Blemly family with gifts of engraved sterling; it is through these pieces that Harnett's work as an engraver is known.
Harnett continued working as a silver engraver until 1875, when his still lifes began to sell and his financial success as a painter became more certain.
To read the complete description, see:
I looked at material on Harnett at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art when doing research for Tiffany & Co. He is just one of many artists (Augustus Saint-Gaudens, etc.) who worked at Tiffany & Co.
Other information on Harnett as a silver engraver is found in an essay "Burin to Brush: Harnett as an Artisan" by Paul Raymond Provost, in the catalog "William Harnett" that accompanied the exhibit on same in 1992 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
By the way, Tiffany Studios and Louis Comfort Tiffany should not be confused with Tiffany & Co. which was started by LCT's father, Charles Lewis Tiffany. It's a big distinction which is often not understood.
So - can anyone attribute a particular medal to Harnett? Did he sign his medallic work?
Wayne Homren, Editor
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