7 Items in this Learning Collection
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Theorem painting: Basket of Fruit

Accession Number

Theorem painting: Basket of Fruit

American; Artist Unknown

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date
circa 1840

Medium & Support
stenciled watercolor on paper

10 1/2 x 13 3/8 in. (26.67 x 33.97 cm);6 3/4 x 9 3/8 in. (17.15 x 23.81 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of The Daniel and Harriet Fusfeld Folk Art Collection

Label copy
Unknown Artist
United States, 19th century
Theorem Painting:
Basket of Fruit
circa 1840
Stenciled watercolor
Gift of the Daniel and Harriet Fusfeld Folk Art Collection, 2002/1.179
The education of young women in the early nineteenth century often included some training in the visual arts. One popular technique at the time was theorem painting. First described by Matthew Finn in 1830, theorem painting was “a mechanical method of painting a picture by applying paint through a series of stencils or ‘theorems.’” The most popular subjects were baskets of fruit, as seen here, or flowers. Stencils of leaves and fruit were laid in a pattern and then filled in with watercolor. Although “a mechanical method,” theorem painting did allow for variety in the placement of elements, and the final painting exhibited a painter’s control of the watercolor medium.
(Out of the Ordinary, 2010)
After being introduced to England by the Chinese in the eighteenth century, theorums, or stencils became popular in the United States. Increasing numbers of young girls attended female academies and finishing schools during the nineteenth century. At these schools, the young girls would receive training in the "polite arts," such as stenciling, painting and drawing.
This still life theorum is a typical example of the sort of works that were popular during the nineteenth century. It depicts brightly colored fruit placed on a blank background. All of the fruit depicted is easily recognizable, especially the watermelon, which is cut to more easily reveal its identity. In addition to the clear representations of the fruit, the veining in the leaves is highly detailed and stands out vibrantly in this composition.
Lindsay Meehan
Modern and Contemporary Art Intern

Physical Description
A gray basket containing a composition of produce including a sliced watermelon, a whole green pumpkin, peaches, cherries, grapes, pears, and plums.

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