Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

Art and Paper Money

[photo: Portion of the trompe l'oeil painting, Barrels of Money, by Victor Dubreuil]

Wouldn't it be nice to have a barrel of money like this? This is actually a portion of a Trompe l'oeil painting, “Barrels of Money,” by Victor Dubreuil, which hangs in the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania. Trompe l'oeil is French for “fool the eye,” and was an especially popular genre of painting in the 1880s and 1890s, but actually dates back to the 5th century B.C. To successfully fool the viewer's eye, the artist would choose a subject that could be depicted using as little depth as possible. You can see why paper money would be a perfect subject. Currency was a popular subject for several other painters who painted in that style, including John Haberle, William Harnett, John Peto, N. Allen Brooks, F. Danton Jr. and Jefferson Davis Chalfant. Sometimes people would think that real currency was actually pasted on the canvas!

The Brandywine River Museum is famous for its remarkable collection of works by three generations of Wyeths, (N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth and James Wyeth) and its fine collection of American illustration, still life and landscape painting, the museum exhibits American art in a 19th century grist mill.

In answer to my recent inquiry whether it was still owned by the museum, Halsey Spruance of the Brandywine River Museum staff e-mailed me “Yes, 'Barrels of Money' is displayed quite often in our galleries. I'm not sure if it is actually hanging now, though.” On my next trip to the Philadelphia area I plan on contacting the museum in advance, and seeing this painting in person!