Lot 42
  • 42

William Michael Harnett

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • William Michael Harnett
  • The Golden Horseshoe
  • signed WMHarnett and dated 1886 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 16 by 14 inches
  • (40.6 by 35.6 cm)


Mr. and Mrs. James W. Alsorf, Winnetka, Illinois
Berry-Hill Galleries, New York
Manoogian Collection, Taylor, Michigan (sold: Shannon's, Milford, Connecticut, October 28, 2010, lot 78)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale


Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago, Treasures of Chicago Collectors, April-May 1961
La Jolla, California, La Jolla Museum of Art; Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Reminiscent Object, Paintings by William Michael Harnett, John Frederick Peto and John Haberle, July-October 1965
Berkeley, California, University Art Gallery; San Francisco, California, California Palace of the Legion of Honor; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts, The Reality of Appearance: The Trompe L'oeil Tradition in American Painting, March-October 1970, no. 50, pp. 84-5, illustrated p. 19 and on the cover 
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum; San Francisco, California, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, The Still Life Paintings of William M. Harnett, March 1992-June 1993, pp. 55, 57, 160, 164-66, illustrated pl. 40, p. 199


Alfred Frankenstein, After the Hunt: William Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters 1870-1900, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 1969, no. 99A, pp. 72, 177, illustrated pl. 64
Katharine Kuh, "The Blithe Deceivers," Saturday Review, vol. LIII, no. 30, July 24, 1970, pp. 38-9
Berry-Hill Galleries, American Paintings V, New York, 1998, p. 179, frontispiece illustration
Henry Adams, "Will the Real William Harnett Please Stand Up," Smithsonian, vol. 22, no. 12, March 1992, pp. 52-63, cover illustration


The canvas was previously lined, but the lining has been removed, and the back of the canvas has been infused with a strengthening agent. The original stretcher and the tacking edges are all intact. The paint layer is stable, with some visible cracking that is slightly raised. The paint layer appears clean and varnished. Under ultraviolet light, only a few small isolated dots of retouching are visible in the background. No retouches are apparent in the horseshoe or piece of newspaper.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1886, at the height of William Michael Harnett’s career, The Golden Horseshoe is one of the artist’s most iconic images.  Alfred Frankenstein writes of the painting’s genius, “The iconography of Harnett’s paintings of 1886 shows an immediate response to the American environment and one which was very much to the good. Now he paints the big, worn, rusty shoe of a drayhorse nailed to the door which is devoid of visible or fanciness of any kind.  A newspaper clipping with threadlike projections at top and bottom is pasted across the deep line of division between the two boards of the door, and the entire background is fabulous for the pattern, the energy, the spirit, and the verisimilitude of its cracks, splinters, and rusty nails—even for its empty nail holes. Harnett has learned that an artist does not need medieval hinges and locks with which to make a door interesting; he has here gone back to the homeliest of the homely, the most commonplace of the commonplace, and with it achieved a new subtlety both of design and connotation” (After the Hunt: William Michael Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters 1870-1900, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 1969, p. 72).  As with many of Harnett’s works, the title is also clever and multi-layered.  It is a visual pun as the horseshoe is in fact, rusted iron and not golden, an allusion to horseshoes as symbols of good luck and also to the newly opened Metropolitan Opera house in New York.  Roxana Robinson writes, “The title The Golden Horseshoe suggests an elegant evening scene of well-dressed connoisseurs in a glittering setting. In the painting, we find instead a visual jest: a homely farrier’s product beams forth rustily from a battered wooden door” (“Common objects of Everyday Life,” William M. Harnett, New York, 1992, p. 166).