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Artist Biography

 John F. Francis was born in Philadelphia, a city rich in culture and home to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as well as still life painters like Raphaelle Peale, James Peale, and Joseph Biays Ord. Presumably a self-taught artist, Francis began his career as an itinerant portrait painter throughout Pennsylvania during the 1830s and 1840s. He returned to Philadelphia for varying periods from 1839 to 1845, and rarely resided far from that area. Around 1850, he began to paint still lifes and by 1854, Francis turned to painting still lifes almost exclusively.

Francis established himself as a master of luncheon and dessert pictures, refined paintings that incorporate a variety of objects such as fruits, cakes, cookies, crackers, porcelain compotes and pitchers, as well as silver cutlery. His luncheon paintings tend to be more elaborate then his dessert subjects, and often include wine glasses and wine bottles, fruits, nuts, cheese, and, his favorite object, “jaw-breakers” or oyster crackers.

According to The Norristown Herald and Free Press, Francis was known to be “a man of culture. He was fond of books and other reading. He was also given to contemplation; and having an analytical mind, would thoroughly digest what he undertook to study.” These methodical qualities served Francis well as a still life painter, for his works are highly regarded for their attention to detail and variety of texture. American art specialist, William Gerdts explained:
“Francis’s attraction to still life… [was the] glorification of the specific. The oyster crackers, for instance, are never merely repeated. Each cracker is distinct in shape and position: no two are alike. Their texture is specific, not soft as cake, not as crumbly as cheese, not nubby as an orange, not hard as metal, glass, or ceramic. Francis’s primary interest… was individuality and in the tactility of an object…”


His painting style is painterly compared to most mid-nineteenth century American still- life specialists, and his brushwork has a loose quality that successfully balances his careful delineation of shape. His color palette is also distinct as he favored primary tones, used pinks and blues in his ceramic wares, and applied pale blue, rather then pure white as a highlight. Like Severin Roesen, Francis never placed his compositions directly in nature, rather he depicted them indoors, arranged upon a tabletop with a white tablecloth, and in some instances, shown with a partial landscape in the background. Unless inscribed, his paintings are difficult to date not only because of his consistent painting style, but also because of he often created similar compositions throughout his career.

Francis exhibited at the Artists' Fund Society and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His work is housed in private and public collections throughout the country, including the High Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Newark Museum, Chrylser Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, National Museum of American Art, Delaware Art Museum, and the Butler Institute of American Art.