Poor Artist’s Cupboard

Charles Bird King

(b. Newport, R.I., 1785–d. Washington, D.C., 1862)


Poor Artist’s Cupboard


c. 18151

Oil on panel

29 13/16 x 27 13/16 in. (75.7 x 70.7 cm)

Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund and Exchange

Accession Number: 


This still life is one of King’s most unusual and intriguing works; the painter was best known for his portraits of Washington politicians and visiting dignitaries. A biting social critique of the lack of support for the arts in America, the painting depicts an artist’s meager possessions—a crust of bread, glass of water, palette, and journal of unpaid bills—crowded into a small alcove. Tattered books suggest the poverty of contemporary culture. In particular, the large, slim volume Choice Criticism of the Exhibitions at Philadelphia likely refers to the inhospitality toward artists in the “City of Brotherly Love.” Many of King’s contemporaries, including Thomas Sully and Rembrandt Peale, departed Philadelphia because of a lack of commissions.