William Sidney Mount (1807–1868)

Fruit Piece: Apples on Tin Cups, 1864

Oil on academy board, 6 1/2 x 9 1/16 in. (16.5 x 23.0 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.100

Rejecting a European-based affinity for grand historical scenes, the New York artist William Sydney Mount painted subjects drawn from everyday life that often carried veiled political messages. Fruit Piece: Apples on Tin Cups, one of his very few still lifes, illustrates this approach. The apparent simplicity of the composition—two ripe apples, set on a pair of overturned cups— belies a complex symbolic discourse concerning the American Civil War (1861–65). The humble tin cup, part of a Union soldier’s equipment, represents the army, while the apple, a fruit so associated with America’s northern colonies that it became a national emblem, stands for the United States. By juxtaposing these objects, the artist suggests that Union forces literally support the country. Mount’s seemingly mundane subject delivers a compelling political message and addresses the larger theme of national identity and allegiance.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.