A Reliable Bag of Tricks

SHOW: "WILLIAM M. HARNETT"

WHERE: METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK CITY

WHAT: 19TH CENTURY STILL LIFES

THE BOTTOM LINE: An overblown look at work that exemplifies the delights -- and limits -- of skillful realism.

FOR SOME DECADES NOW, THE eye-fooler William Harnett (1848-92) has been one of the most popular American 19th century painters. Everyone relishes the stories about his gee-whiz illusionistic skills and how they mesmerized Americans at the dawn of the photographic age a century ago, people less drenched in images and less blase about them than we. "So real is it," wrote a Cincinnati journalist in...

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