John Frederick Peto moved to Island Heights, New Jersey, on the Atlantic shore, when he was in his 30s. The loss of the social and business contacts of his native Philadelphia meant his artwork was rarely exhibited at large, well-known venues, and he received little notice in the press. At his death in 1907 he left no journal or letters that might have illuminated his career. These factors contributed to his obscurity as an artist.
Although his works were not as deceptively realistic as those of his friend William Harnett, another American still-life painter of the same period, Peto’s work was commonly confused with Harnett’s. As Harnett had a much higher profile as an artist, many Peto paintings were altered by unscrupulous sellers to add Harnett’s false signature and thus command higher prices. It wasn’t until the late 1940s, when art historian Alfred Frankenstein was researching a scholarly book on Harnett, that Peto was rediscovered. Frankenstein reattributed dozens of works—formerly attributed to Harnett or listed as anonymous works—to Peto. Under the lining of MAG’s canvas, Peto’s daughter wrote a sentence declaring the work to be authentic.