John Frederick Peto was born in Philadelphia in 1854. Although he was largely self-taught, Peto did study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1877. Peto contributed paintings to the academy’s exhibitions until 1888. During his lifetime only one major exhibition of Peto’s work was presented (at the Academy); the next occurred nearly fifty years after his death. In 1889, Peto and his wife moved to Island Heights, New Jersey. He lived the remainder of his life in ill health and artistic obscurity, distancing himself from an art world that favored the work of his contemporary, William Michael Harnett. For a time Peto’s trompe-l’oeil paintings were passed off as Harnett’s with a forged signature. Peto died in Island Heights in 1907.
National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)
John F. Peto’s canvases invite viewers to figure out what the objects mean and what they say about the artist’s world. Peto studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he befriended William Michael Harnett, another artist who delighted in illusionistic painting. The collectors of their paintings were mostly businessmen, and the works depict a man’s world of card games, well-read books, and hunting gear with astonishing realism. While living in Philadelphia, Peto painted several “office boards” that hung in the offices of journalists and dry goods merchants, a circle of friends that Peto’s works celebrated. (Bolger, “The Early Rack Paintings of John F. Peto: ‘Beneath the Nose of the Whole World,’” in Lowenthal, ed., The Object as Subject: Studies in the Interpretation of Still Life, 1996)