During the Renaissance, artists produced monochromatic paintings and drawings exclusively in tones of gray to simulate classical sculpture. Neoclassical taste at the turn of the nineteenth century reinvigorated monochromatic themes in the decorative arts, and work en grisaille persisted through the middle of the century in forms such as theorem paintings and sandpaper drawings. This is one of several similar compositions painted in monochromatic washes in shades of gray. Initially it gives the appearance of a theorem painting, executed with the aid of stencils, but many elements appear to have been painted freehand to simulate the theorem’s hard-edged effect.
The image closely follows the lithograph Vase of Fruit published by Kelloggs & Comstock of New York City and Hartford, Connecticut (1848–1850). This type of still life, depicting overflowing displays of fruit and flowers, captured the growing sense of America’s bounty after the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Instructions and copy sources were provided by teachers and also published in magazines, which accounts for the multiple examples of patterns that exist today.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Vase of Fruit," in American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 341.