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Emilie Preyer - Fruit and Wine

Emilie Preyer (1849-1930), German
Fruit and Wine, undated
OIL ON CANVAS, 9 1/2 by 12 1/2 inches
Gift of Horace Fairbanks

As the only work in the Athenaeum's collection known to have been created by a woman, Emilie Preyer's Fruit and Wine bears witness to the often insurmountable challenges that confronted aspiring women artists during the nineteenth century. As was frequently the case for the successful few, Preyer studied art with her father, Johann Wilhelm Preyer (1803-1899), who was himself a celebrated still life painter in Dusseldorf, Germany and developed a significant following of women artists that included his daughter as well as the Burlington, Vermont-born painter Helen Searle (1834-1885).

Like her father, Emilie Preyer worked in the Dutch tradition of crisply painted, brightly colored tabletop scenes. From the known record of her paintings, exclusively still lifes, she worked in two basic sizes, of which Fruit and Wine is actually the larger. Moreover, with its translucent glass of champagne, richly veined marble shelf, and diverse fruits, the painting is also among her most challenging subjects with its widely varied forms, textures, colors, and effects of light. The fly, cut apricot and decaying leaves included in the composition are symbols of life's brevity, often referred to by their Latin name, memento Mori.