John Frederick Peto

(American, 1854 - 1907)

John Frederick Peto was born in Philadelphia in 1854. His father dealt in picture frames, giving him an early exposure to art. In 1877 Peto enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he met William Michael Harnett (1848-1892). The two artists painted highly illusionistic still lifes that inspired a whole school of American trompe l’eoil painters. Peto exhibited in the Academy's annual exhibitions for several years, and during the next decade he had studios at different addresses on Chestnut Street. In 1887 he went to Cincinnati, probably in pursuit of a commission. While there he met Christine Pearl Smith, who became his wife. Back east, the couple started visiting Island Heights, New Jersey, a shore resort with Methodist beginnings. In 1889 Peto built a house in Island Heights and devoted himself to his wife and daughter and to the quiet pursuit of his art. His studio, which still stands today, was filled with simple, often worn, objects that the artist painted over and over, refining his vision in groups of related compositions: small pictures of three or four objects, often a mug, a book, and a pipe, objects hanging on a wall or a door, rack pictures, and tabletop still lifes.