From the Collection

'Plucked Clean'

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"Plucked Clean" at the Corcoran Gallery of Art is a joke, of course, a magician's joke. Eye-fooling William M. Harnett, who painted it in 1882, may have been the best illusionist in 19th-century American art. Although his cunning trompe-l'oeil tricks now are out of fashion, they're still pretty amazing. That weightless fluff of chicken down adhering to the frame was painted with his brush.

Dead quail and dead ducks, brass hunting horns and sportsmen's guns, hang plentifully together in Harnett's "After the Hunt" still lifes. Such pictures -- implying, as they do, shooting parties, rolling acres, hunting lodges and deer parks -- celebrate rich people. "Plucked Clean," instead, makes fun of wealth. Americans in Harnett's day (1848-1892) enjoyed skewering the rich. We still do.

-- Paul Richard

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 17th Street and New York Avenue NW, is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and until 9 on Thursdays. Admission $8.

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