American Masterpieces from Dryads Green Gallery
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Adirondack Farms, ca. 1885, Oil on Canvas, 20 x 24, Signed   
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Curator's Comments: Noted American art scholar Bill Gerdts calls what Levi Wells
Prentice
 (1851 - 1935) did best 'illiusionism.' Gerdts should know because his still-life
collection  included a work by Prentice. Others refer to it as a proto trompe l'oeil--the
French art term for 'fools the eye'--or call it simply 'primitive.' But note that the only
scholarly study of Prentice is
Nature Staged by Barbara L. Jones, whose use of the term
'staged' is apt indeed. We call his unique style simply 'Landscape as Still Life'--and as
landscape collectors we long wanted to own it. We've been told by one Antiques Roadshow
curator that you buy Prentice for his still life's only--'especially his apples.' But there is just
nothing like his frozen  portraits of the Adirondacks that he wandered through in his
youth--teaching himself how to paint while reading Ruskin on Renaissance Art and Modern
Painters. It is the perfectly etched quality of his greenery--the absolute stillness--the silent
moment--all of which show art's power to stop time--that we wanted. And do note that
Prentice landscapes are now selling for as much as his fruit-filled still life work.
SELF-TAUGHT PRENTICE IS A
POWERFUL AMERICAN PRIMITIVE
Prentice was born in Lewis County, New York in 1851 and raised on a small farm in the
Adirondack Mountains. He painted landscapes as far afield as Buffalo and Syracuse, where
he established his first studio. A few early portraits have survived, which suggest Prentice
may have seen work by Field. He  married an English woman, Emma Roseloe Sparks, in
Buffalo, New York in 1882 and in 1883, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he worked
as a carpenter and art teacher. Newman Galleries employed Prentice as a framemaker. The
couple had two children, Leigh (born 22 March 1887) and Imogene (born 17 September
1889). He was a member of the Brooklyn Art Association and frequently exhibited as such.
This was the period of his masterpiece still-life studies of fruit on the table, in hats, or
baskets abundantly spilling by the bushel--apples, strawberries, peaches, plums, raspberries,
cherries, muskmelons, pears, currants, pineapples, gooseberries, grapes and bananas usually
piled high in kitchens or in natural settings. And the contrast between the basket work and
the actual fruit has caused some to see Wells distinguishing the works of man and nature. But
we think Wells is telling us about abundance. That is the dominant theme--of his settings be
they tabletops full of one cake after another or the baskets and hats that are always
overflowing. Nature is generous and its fecundity easily overcomes time as the artist
struggles to survive mutability much in the way of Keats's Odes. By illusionism, Gerdts
meant that Prentice's still-life fruits are in fact good enough to eat--their chiaroscuro
rendition and waxy polished surfaces are intended to make the viewer say grace for nature's
gifts. Prentice subsequently left Brooklyn and moved variously from 1903-07 before settling
in the Germantown district of Philadelphia, where he died in 1935. Yale owns the wonderful
'Green Parrot' by Prentice, and his work is in the Montclair Museum, the Hudson Museum
and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and many other noted collections. The Adirondack
Museum organized a retrospective not long after Prentice's death.
The Artist in his Brooklyn Studio
A Hatful of Apples brought $135,000
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