Theodore Clement Steele, American, 1847–1926
Oil on canvas
55.88 cm x 101.6 cm | 22 x 40 in
Framed: 90.48 cm x 82.86 cm x 6.35 | 35-5/8 in x 32-5/8 in x 2-1/2 in
Not signed or dated
Gift of the Sons of J. Ottis Adams
With permission, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Accession Number: 71.218.13
This still life painting is held in the collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and was a gift of the sons of painter J. Ottis Adams (1851 – 1927).1
Adams was a member of the Hoosier Group of Indiana Painters, along with T.C. Steele, William Forsyth, Richard B. Gruelle, Otto Stack, and T.C. Steele.
Adams had three sons with his wife, painter Winifred Brady who was a still life artist. In birth order there son were John Alban (born 1900), Edward Wolfe (born 1902), and Robert Brady (born 1904).
This still life painting presents a vase in the center with a book in the foreground which features two book clasps facing the viewer.2 It appears to have the lower framing of a mirror at the top of the still life.
“Book clasps of this type were used in England at least as early as the 12th century. The strap was fastened to the fore edge of the upper cover. English book binders of the 14th century began using two straps instead of just one, something which had been done earlier and more often on the Continent of Europe. Initially, each clasp consisted of a strip of leather having a metal hook on one end.”3
Still Life is a principal genre of Western art. Typically still life painting can include anything that does not move, and may be seen often in painting or drawing as arrangements of objects, typically including fruit and flowers and objects contrasting with these in texture, such as bowls and glassware. Still life became an independent genre in art in the early 17th century.
T.C. Steele’s painting Still Life is dated about 1880-1885, and not signed or dated. We can see a much darker tonality, when compared to the earlier Still Life of Fruit and Urn painted in 1878. Still Life with Fruit and Urn would have be painted when the artist lived in Indianapolis, prior to studying in Munich at the Royal Academy (1880 – 1885). Note that Still Life of Fruit and Urn is signed “Theo C. Steele”, and dated 1878 prior to his training in Munich (1880 – 1885).
1Sparacino, Eliza. “J. Ottis Adams Papers, 1882-1951 | Indianapolis Museum of Art Archives.” Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, n.d. https://discovernewfields.org/application/files/5515/0829/3381/archives-M001.pdf.
2Greenfield, Jane. ABC of Bookbinding: an Illustrated Glossary of Terms for Collectors & Conservators. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1998. https://www.amazon.com/ABC-Bookbinding-Illustrated-Collectors-Conservators/dp/1884718418/.
3“Book Clasps.” Book Clasps – A brief History of the Book Clasp. Accessed December 7, 2020. http://www.edenworkshops.com/book_clasps.html.