Verbal description of object for people who are blind or visually impaired
You are standing before The Printseller’s Window, a large oil on canvas by British artist Walter Goodman. The Printseller’s Window, painted around 1883, is 52 inches high by 44 inches wide. This painting portrays a cluttered display window of a printseller’s shop and is painted with such realism that you imagine you are standing on the street peering in. The Printseller, an older man, who wears wire-rimmed spectacles and has a thick, yellow-gray beard and mustache, is standing at the back right of the display window. He stares intently at the small statue of a reclining figure that he holds in his hands.
Starting from the foreground of the painting, you see the floor of the display window is covered with etchings and lithographs from the 17th to the 19th centuries, on top of which are two open books and numerous smaller prints. In the center, a turquoise and brown pottery dish, partly filled with copper and silver coins, rests on top of another stack of prints. On the far right a circular, rose-colored portrait of a female figure contrasts with the other black and white images.
In the middle-ground of the painting, raised about a foot above the floor of the display window, a dusty, narrow wooden shelf extends across the width of the window. The shelf is lined with objects. From left to right, the first object is a green glass tankard with a hinged, pewter lid. Next, is a white and blue, gold-rimmed teacup and saucer. To the right of the teacup is a slim terracotta-colored Greek vase that is twice as tall as the teacup. In the center of the shelf is a portrait of a bearded gentleman in a rustic frame. A large magnifying glass is propped up against the left side of the frame, enlarging a detail. Crowded next to the frame and only half as high, is a short glass vase. It is partly covered by a small black and white photograph leaning against it. A string of pearls, which is wrapped around the base of the vase, runs behind the photograph. Two short loops of the pearl necklace dangle off the edge of the shelf. Behind the pearls and to the right is a clear etched glass vase. A miniature oval portrait is perched between this glass vase and a small teal-colored vase with raised white designs. This vase is similar in shape to the terracotta vase on the left. The last object on this shelf is a small statue of an armless nude child.
About 15 inches above the shelf, a string is stretched across the center of the window. A dozen small photographic portraits called cartes-de-visites are clipped to the string. Ten are portraits of men and two of women. All are in formal poses. Above the line of photographs, on the left side of the window, a booklet with curled paper pages hangs on a string from a nail and gives the illusion that it protrudes from the window. A burgundy colored curtain is draped three-quarters of the way across the top and down the right side of the window frame. The background color of the interior walls of the display window are green and are also covered with prints. In the far background, through the opening on the right, we eventually perceive prints and small objects in the distance behind the printseller in the dim interior of the shop.
Walter Goodman, a Victorian artist, lived from 1838 to 1912. The Memorial Art Gallery purchased The Printseller’s Window thanks to the Marion Stratton Gould Fund.
Director Emeritus Grant Holcomb speaks about this object.
The art term “trompe l’oeil” means “to fool the eye.” That is, the artist’s depiction of an object or person is so lifelike that the viewer, momentarily confused, asks if it’s real. This fascination with startling illusion in art is over 5000 years old.
We are indeed fortunate to have this superb example in our collection. Acquired at auction in 1998, this painting has been called “a masterpiece” and “one of the most richly fascinating works in the history of “trompe l’oeil” painting.”
Depicted is an art gallery with its treasure trove of objects displayed in the window: prints, coins, books, photographs, ceramics, a magnifying glass, a wine glass and even a strand of pearls to name but a few of the myriad of objects. It is a collector’s paradise from ancient coins to 19th century prings; indeed, many of the objects can be identified: prints by Rubens, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Van Dyke; a framed photograph of the noted British art critic John Ruskin and carte de visites of artists (some well-regarded today such as Alma-Tadema and others long forgotten).
In the midst of the mélange of objects is the dominant figure of the print seller, carefully cradling a cupid in his hands. Behind him we see a dimly lit gallery space with furniture and framed pictures. This composition is then surrounded by a painted molding of a frame with a red curtain pulled back as though unveiling the scene. If this may seem a “painting within a painting,” it is immediately contradicted by the prints hanging at the upper left and at a right angle to the window itself. Indeed, the prints contradict any speculation of a “painting within a painting” by projecting outside the picture’s two-dimensional space.
A complex, crowded composition, The Print Seller is a tour de force of illusionism and one of the major paintings in our permanent collection. As such, it seems strange, if not unbelievable, that so little is known of this remarkable painter. We know that he was British, that his mother was an accomplished portrait painter and his father a London merchant. We know that he traveled extensively and, apparently, after living in Cuba, came to the United States for a period of at least five years. Little else is known and even less is known about his career as an artist as so very few of his paintings are known to exist. The Gallery’s exquisite work indicates an artist of major talent and gives us pause to think where equally dazzling other work may be found.
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