The still-life paintings of John F. Peto are notable not only for their sophisticated qualities of formal design and precise recording of the appearance and textures of the things they depict, but also for their psychological complexity.  For the Track,one of his most accomplished late works, presents an array of worn and well-used objects connected with horse racing. Against a dark green painted door are displayed a red jockey's cap, a riding crop, a spur, a thinned and bent horseshoe, betting stubs, a racetrack announcement, a tattered image of a dark horse, and various fragments of torn paper, such as the illegible newspaper clipping at the top right. At the bottom, a dark blue envelope or piece of paper seems to have fallen and become lodged between canvas and frame, enhancing the sense of illusion.
Peto often painted pictures on commission that depict objects such as letters, cards, or pamphlets that made reference to specific patrons. Presumably, the objects depicted in this work also had some personal significance, although we do not know for whom it was painted (an individual's name is not found anywhere on it). But whatever specific meanings it may have held, For the Track clearly refers to one of still-life painting's most enduring themes: the passage of time and the transience of earthly things. The worn surfaces, broken and rusty hinges, bent nails, and torn bits of paper all resonate with a sense of the past, the forgotten, and the discarded. The races have been run, bets have been won or lost, and the rider's equipment—or, at least, these few bits of it—has been hung up, perhaps for good. But the abstract power of Peto's composition and the sheer visual beauty of his bold colors counteract any sense of somber nostalgia, animating the painting with a remarkable aesthetic vitality.
(Text by Franklin Kelly, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
1. On Peto, see John Wilmerding, <i>Important Information Inside: The Art of John F. Peto and the Idea of Still-Life Painting in Nineteenth-Century America</i> [exh. cat., National Gallery of Art] (Washington, 1983).
lower left: J.F. Peto / 95; center reverse: FOR THE TRACK / J.F. Peto 95 / ISLAND HeIGHTS / N.J
Private collections, from the 1930s; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 1 June 1984, no. 32); purchased through (Hirschl & Adler, New York) by Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., Los Angeles; gift (partial and promised) 1997 to NGA; gift completed 2008.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2002-2003, no. 56, color repro.
- Art and Antiques (June 1984): repro. 97.
- "Cole 'View of Boston' May Sell for $1 Million." The New York Times (25 May 1984).