William Michael Harnett achieved enormous popularity with a type of still life that involved the use of trompe l’oeil. This concept, which offered a modern rethinking of the traditional vanitas using everyday, contemporary objects, had a profound influence on American painters and a series of great masters of trompe l’oeil arose around the end of the 19th century. Some of Harnett’s compositions were so successful that they were imitated by his numerous followers.
Objects for a Leisure Hour conveys the sense of recent human presence through the smouldering pipe resting on the edge of the table, the used matches and the half-eaten biscuit and its crumbs. The sense of fleeting time is also conveyed through the folded-up newspaper in the middle-ground, with its date of publication visible. All these objects are seemingly arranged at random but reveal a subtle sense of harmony and carefully meditated equilibrium.