When the Art for Appetite exhibit came to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth this summer, a painting by the lesser-known artist Albert Francis King ( AF King ) not only held its own with other paintings in the exhibition but stood out. Perhaps the finely-painted glass with beer, biscuits and cheese depart from the traditional subject matter for a 19th Century still-life painting. The Carnegie Museum of Art’s handbook (the museum that loaned the painting) suggests the work may allude to the dangers of these worldly pursuits.
A.F. King made most of his money painting portraits, including one for Andrew Carnegie. Those lined the walls of the prestigious Duquesne Club but isn’t otherwise on display. The works the artist submitted to exhibitions were landscapes and still lifes, including Late Night Snack, the painting at Art for Appetite.
Make no mistake; King was a traditional painter. The Pittsburgh-based artist modeled his style of painting after George Hetzel, the founder of the Scalp Level school, a group of artists who went to an area outside of the quickly industrialized-Pittsburgh for natural inspiration.
While Pittsburgh was becoming industrialized, the art world was also changing, and King was not happy about it.
So upset with the Impressionist works making their way into the Carnegie International, King painted his spoof, signed it “Raflahelli,” and hung it in a downtown storefront.
Late Night Snack is from around 1895, just before the first Carnegie International exhibition. Despite rallying against modern painting styles, King loosened his brush a bit in later years. Still he struggled to survive in the new landscape. Lacking for commissions in Pittsburgh, he moved to Omaha briefly.
With the Carnegie Internationals, the city had been introduced to more sophisticated art and local patrons went with the paradigm shift. King’s teacher, George Hetzel was rejected by all but one of the “masters of the future” exhibitions. By the 1920s, aware his works were out of fashion; King stopped submitting to exhibitions.
But time changes things, and today King is recognized for his skill, and for continuing the tradition of American still life painting from the early 19th Century, often with an updated subject matter. In fact, you could go one step farther. It would be great to see Late Night Snack alongside a commission done for Captain Frederick Pabst when he changed the name of his beer from Select to Pabst Blue Ribbon.