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A crusty piece of bread, a short glass of water, a black top hat, a pink conch shell, more than a dozen books, and papers are crammed into an arched alcove in this nearly square still life painting. Lining the bottom edge of the alcove, the long, thin spine of a brown book is printed with the title, “CHOICE CRITICISM ON THE EXHIBITIONS AT PHILADELPHIA” in gold against a red background. To our right, a red portfolio holds a sheaf of loose papers under a thick book titled “LIVES OF THE PAINTERS.” A crusty hunk of bread and a black-handled knife sit on a ceramic plate on the thick book. To our left, two calling cards with handwritten notes lean on the short glass of water. Both are addressed to “Palette” and one is an invitation to visit after tea and other asks about a debt of five dollars. The glass holds open the pages of a book propped against the niche, and the title page reads, “ADVANTAGES OF POVERTY THIRD PART.” The title of a second book behind the glass, missing its cover, reads, “PLEASURES OF HOPE,” though the page is ripped through the word “hope.” The light green, brown, or red spines of a row of books behind this, along the back of the niche, are titled, from left to right: “CHEYENE ON VEGETABLE DIET,” then “MISERIES OF LIFE” to our left, and “BURTONS ANATOMY OF MELANCOL” and “SIGNS OF THE TIMES” near the center. One of the two spines in shadow to our right reads “CALAMITIES OF AUTHOR.” A protractor tucked into a small notebook with a gray cover and red edges leans on the books near the center. More books are piled on top. Three of those spines are written in cursive handwriting with “Unpaid Bills,” “We Fly by Night,” and “No Son No Supper.” The conch shell sits along the edges of the standing books below to our left, with its gleaming rosy pink and golden tan interior facing us. A tightly rolled sheaf of papers wrapped with a sky-blue sheet rests diagonally from the upper left corner of the niche down behind the bread. What looks like a newspaper clipping is tied at the center with the headline “Just Published.” A tattered black top hat is wedged between the tightly rolled paper and loose, curling papers stacked above. One of the loose sheets is titled “LAUGHING PHILOSOPHER” and handwriting on another reads, “Perspective view of the County Gaot of Philadelphia.” Another newspaper clipping is affixed to the upper left face of the beige-colored stone niche. It has the headline, “SHERIFF’S SALE THE PROPERTY OF THE ARTIST,” and continues, “Consisting of One Cradle, One Blanket, Two pair of Ruffles, Petticoat, Silk Stockings, and Peck of Potatoes. Four Pictures, of Roast Pigs, Turkies Decanters of Wine and Plumb Cake Painted from Recollection. Fall of the Giants, and View of Paradise, sixteen feet by twenty. Comforts of Matrimony, odd volume. Short Cut to Wealth. Sermon on The Vanity of Human Pursuits. Philadelphia Jan 1st 1812.”

Charles Bird King, Poor Artist's Cupboard, c. 1815, oil on wood, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund and exchange), 2014.79.24

Gallery Talks

The Art of Looking

Charles Bird King: Poor Artist's Cupboard

  • Friday, January 6, 2023
  • 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
  • Virtual Program

Charles Bird King's Poor Artist's Cupboard is the inspiration for this interactive conversation. Join us for a one-hour virtual session and share your observations, interpretations, questions, and ideas about this work of art.

These conversations will encourage you to engage deeply with art, with others, and with the world around you as you hone skills in visual literacy and perspective-taking.

The program is free, open to the public, and is desgined for everyone interested in talking about art. No art or art history background is required. Ages 18 and over.

Due to the interactive nature of this virtual program, sessions are not recorded.

Live Captions

Live captions (CART) are available in some breakout rooms for this program. Please contact [email protected] to request access or for more information.