Levi Wells Prentice (1851–1935)
Apples by a Tree, c. 1885
Oil on canvas, 10 x 18 in.
Provenance: a Midwestern collection, until 2007
Related work: Apples under a Tree, oil on canvas, 12 x 23 in. (collection of William B. Ruger).
Note: This painting retains its original frame and is accompanied by a letter from Prentice expert Barbara L. Jones.
In Apples by a Tree, Prentice took care to integrate the apples into their natural environment further than his choice of setting already implied. Some of the stems of the apples are quite long and still have leaves attached to them, suggesting the tree from which they were picked. The highly legible landscape background includes other twigs and leaves lying in the foreground, and the apples lie next to a tree trunk—perhaps the one from which they fell. Pebbles, grass, and a large leaf contribute to the viewer’s sense that he or she has stumbled upon the apples in their natural habitat.
To this mid-century format Prentice added the illusionism of contemporaneous trompe l’oeil painters, such as William M. Harnett. Prentice depicted the apples at life size, so that specific blemishes are visible, and he chose apples with multiple, streaked colors that presented a special challenge to his formidable imitative abilities. The texture of many of these objects is palpable, especially the bark of the tree trunk and the large, wrinkled leaf in the left background. Linear movement in this leaf and those attached to the apples breaks up the apples’ regular curves and enlivens the image.