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Painted still life of a hanging fish with two spring flowering twigs behind it.

A fish hangs asymmetrically from the top, right of center with its mouth open, and tail left of center at the bottom, its silver belly faces right. There’s a red line painted inside its gill under the mouth. Light and dark colors define the shape and mass of the fish. A red five petaled blossom looms in the lower right corner, blending in with the ochre colors around it. It’s painted against a rich golden background that’s brighter at the top, gradating darker towards the bottom.

Gallery Text

In 1864, Boston architect Henry Van Brunt commissioned John La Farge to paint a series of decorative panels to adorn the dining room of a prominent local builder. This striking still life hails from that commission. With itsaqueous subject, tight, asymmetrical composition, and gold ground, the painting reflects the artist’s lifelong interest in Japanese woodcuts and screen painting. La Farge avidly collected Japanese prints, traveled to Japan in 1886, and later published a book about his journey.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
John La Farge, American (New York, NY 1835 - 1910 Providence, RI)
Fish (Decorative Panel)
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2100, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Centuries of Tradition, Changing Times: Art for an Uncertain Age
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on wood panel
60.3 x 44.5 cm (23 3/4 x 17 1/2 in.)
frame: 81.3 x 65.4 x 1.3 cm (32 x 25 3/4 x 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: u.c.: Jno Lafarge MDCCCLXV


Recorded Ownership History
Aimee (Mrs. George L.) Heins, sister of the artist; her sale to Doll and Richards, Boston, MA, 1913; their sale to Mrs. Richard Stokes, New York, by 1934; her sale to Grenville L. Winthrop, New York, NY; his bequest to the Fogg Art Museum, 1943

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art


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Publication History

  • George Parsons Lathrop, "John La Farge", Scribner's Monthly (February 1881), vol. XXI, pp. 503-17, 513
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, An Exhibition of the Work of John La Farge, exh. cat., Blanchard Press, Inc. (New York, NY, 1936), pl. 17, reproduced in b/w
  • Ruth B. Katz, "La Farge as Painter and Critic" (Ph.D. Diss., Radcliffe College, 1951), Unpublished
  • Helen Barbara Weinberg, "John La Farge and the Decoration of Trinity Church, Boston", Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (December 1974), vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 323-53, pps. 323-353, reproduced b/w fig. 1, p. 323
  • Henry B. Adams, "A La Farge Decorative Project" (Thesis, Yale University, 1976)
  • Helen Barbara Weinberg, "The Decorative Work of John La Farge" (Thesis, Columbia University, 1977), Garland Press, pp. 41-42, n. 3, 323
  • Kathleen A. Foster, "The Still-Life Paintings of John La Farge", American Art Journal (Summer 1979), no. 11, pp. 4-37, pps. 4-37; reproduced [incorrectly] b/w, fig. 11, p. 23
  • Henry B. Adams, “A Fish by John La Farge”, Art Bulletin (June 1980), vol. LXII, no. 2, pp. 269-80, pps. 269-280, reproduced fig. 1
  • Henry B. Adams, “John La Farge and Japan”, Apollo (February 1984), pp.120-29, reproduced p. 125, no. 14
  • Henry B. Adams, “John La Farge's Discovery of Japanese Art”, The Art Bulletin, Art Bulletin (September 1985), pp.449-85, reproduced b/w, fig. 37, p. 473
  • Natalie Spassky, Linda Bantel, Doreen Bolger Burke, Meg Perlman, and Amy L. Walsh, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume II: A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born between 1816 and 1845, ed. Kathleen Luhrs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University Press (New York, 1985), p. 406
  • Dorinda Evans, "Albert Pinkham Ryder's Use of Visual Sources", Winterthur Portfolio (Spring 1986), vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 21-40, pp. 34-35, fig. 13
  • Doreen Bolger Burke, In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, 1986), reproduced b/w, fig. 9.10, p. 306
  • James L. Yarnall, Nature Vivante: The Still Lifes of John La Farge, exh. cat., Jordan-Volpe Gallery, Inc. (New York, NY, 1995), pp. 122-123, reproduced b/w fig 24, p. 122
  • Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Virginia Anderson, and Kimberly Orcutt, ed., American Paintings at Harvard, Volume Two, Paintings, Drawings, Pastels and Stained Glass by Artists Born 1826-1856, Harvard Art Museums and Yale University Press (U.S.) (Cambridge, MA and New Haven, CT, 2008), p. 186-87, cat. no. 144, reproduced in color, p. 186
  • Kimberly Orcutt, Power & Posterity: American Art at Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, Pennsylvania, 2017), pp. 64-65, repr. p. 65 as fig. 21
  • Melody Barnett Deusner, Aesthetic Painting in Britian and America: Collectors, Art Worlds, Networks, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Yale University Press (London, 2020), pp.129-130, repr. p. 130 as fig. 64

Exhibition History

  • Unidentified Exhibition, Allston Club, 1866, Allston Club, Boston, 01/01/1866 - 12/31/1866
  • Annual Exhibition, 1867, National Academy of Design, New York, 01/01/1867 - 12/31/1867
  • Unidentified Exhibition, Cincinnati Academy, 1868, Cincinnati Academy, Cincinnati, 01/01/1868 - 12/31/1868
  • Unidentified Exhibition, Yale School of Fine Arts, 1971, Yale University School of Fine Arts, New Haven, 01/01/1871 - 12/31/1871
  • Unidentified Exhibition, Cottier's Gallery, 1875, Cottier's Gallery, 01/01/1875 - 12/31/1875
  • Unidentified Exhibition, MFA Boston, 1883, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 01/01/1883 - 12/31/1883
  • Unidentified Exhibition, Society of American Artists, 1883, Society of American Artists, 01/01/1883 - 12/31/1883
  • An Exhibition of the Work of John La Farge, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 03/23/1936 - 04/26/1936
  • For Students of Art and Lovers of Beauty: Highlights from the Collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/16/2004
  • American Art and Modernity, 1865–1965, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2012 - 01/19/2013
  • 32Q: 2100 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/10/2018 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • Collection Highlights

Verification Level

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