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Still Life with Watermelon

ca. 1830-1840
Origin: America, New England
21 3/4"x 22 7/8"
Paint on velvet
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1957.403.2
A stenciled composition of fruits in a basket set on a fringed mat. A large, cut watermelon dominates the composition; other fruits include pears, peaches, grapes, cherries, berries, and another melon. The basket is horizontally bound by three striped bands. The two sides and upper edge of the composition are all edged with a sawtooth border.
Label:One of only a few theorems known to have been executed by a male artist, this piece, which derives from the same source as another in the museum’s collection, indicates that the pastime of painting on velvet was not limited to school girls. Along with one other example, located at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., it bears the stamped name William Stearns.

William Stearns is believed to have been the son of Isaac and Susannah Stearns of Mansfield, Massachusetts. Born in 1808, he was known for his calligraphic drawings in the 1820s, and he is recorded as having “died a painter” in 1845. In 1835, William married Nancy Hicks Walker of Dighton, Massachusetts, and together they had six children. Their oldest, also named William, grew up to have a successful painting and paper hanging business, a trade he likely learned from his father.

Mark(s):Stamped beneath the basket is "PAINTED BY/WILLIAM STEARNS".