Robert Spear Dunning (1829–1905)

Harvest of Cherries, 1866

Oil on canvas, 20 x 26 1/2 in. (50.8 x 67.3 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.48

A founder of the Fall River school of still-life painting, based in his home state of Massachusetts, Robert Spear Dunning produced illusionistic works that carried forward a tradition from the pre–Civil War period. Harvest of Cherries, one of his earliest still-lifes, depicts an abundance of the shiny red fruit spilling from a basket and a man’s straw hat set juxtaposed with an overturned woman’s bonnet. The painting evokes a moment of carefree leisure with overtones of courtship. In its precise rendering of natural forms and textures, it is reminiscent of both seventeenth-century Dutch art and nineteenth-century British Pre-Raphaelite art. Here, however, the sensual appeal of the subject is countered by a moralizing reflection on people. The slight tears in the brim of the man’s hat contrast with the flawless cherries—traditionally associated with virtue—as if to emphasize human shortcomings compared to nature’s perfection.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.