Untitled Document

Artist Biography

A shy, reclusive man, John Frederick Peto has emerged as one of the most romantic and enigmatic figures in late nineteenth-century American art. Because he made no statements about his art, no personal letters have survived, and he rarely exhibited his work, he was virtually unknown until the late 1940s when art historian Alfred Frankenstein began his comprehensive study of American trompe l’oeil painters that culminated in the 1953 publication of his After the Hunt: William Michael Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters, 1870-1900. In this important work, Frankenstein recognized Peto as an individual artistic personality, and an important contributor to the distinctive style of nineteenth century American still life painting.

Born in Philadelphia in 1854, Peto may have acquired his interest in art from his father, who was a dealer in picture frames. By the mid-1870s, Peto was listed as an artist in the city’s directories, and in 1877 he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. While there he studied briefly with Thomas Eakins. His attraction to still-life painting is not surprising considering the strong tradition of the genre in Philadelphia with generations of Peales, Severin Roesen, and John F. Francis. Perhaps the greatest influence on his art was his friendship with William Michael Harnett, whom Peto met in 1880, the year Harnett left for Europe. Peto maintained various studios in Philadelphia over the next decade, and exhibited his work on occasion at the Academy.

Peto’s paintings are housed in prestigious public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA; National Museum of American Art, Washington DC; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburg, PA; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA.