John Haberle, with his contemporaries William Harnett and John Peto, was one of the most important trompe l'oeil still-life painters in late nineteenth-century America. Of them, Haberle was specially noted for his style (the microscopic painting of detail) and for his favorite subject (money). He was also an artist of great aesthetic sensibility and inventive power, as seen in the refined and subtle compositional arrangement of Imitation. Judging from the multileveled plays on reality and identity in Imitation—his signature, the imitated clipping on the imitated frame, and the imitated tintype portrait photograph—he was also richly endowed with a keen wit and intelligence.
When Imitation was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1887, it became the first of Haberle's trompe l'oeil paintings to receive public recognition. It was acquired from the exhibition by the most important collector of American art of the period, Thomas B. Clarke (one of Winslow Homer's principal patrons). Clarke reported that the painting, "which created so much talk in the National Academy of Design," was particularly admired by William Harnett, who "said that he had never seen such reproduction anywhere." 
Among its many virtues, Imitation is in a pristine state of preservation. It is unlined and has its original varnish and frame, which still bears Thomas B. Clarke's monogram.
(Text by Nicolai Cikovsky Jr., published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
1. Quoted in Gertrude Grace Sill, John Haberle, Master of Illusion [exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts Springfield] (Springfield, Mass., 1985), 49.
upper right: J. HABERLE / NEW HAVEN, CT. / 1887; lower center: J Haberle
Purchased 1887 by Thomas B. Clarke [1848-1931], New York; (his sale, Chickering Hall and American Art Galleries, New York, 14-18 February 1899, 1st day, no. 36); H. Staples Potter, Boston; probably by inheritance to his niece, Sibyl McKenzie Snyder [1880-1954; the third wife of Robert McClure Snyder, who lived 1852-1906], Kansas City, Missouri; by inheritance to her son, Kenneth W. Snyder, Kansas City, Missouri; by inheritance to Mr. and Mrs. Peter L. Chapman; (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 28 May 1987, no. 81); (Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York); purchased 30 October 1998 by NGA.
Associated NamesBerry-Hill Galleries
- Sixth Autumn Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, 1887, no. 362.
- Gill's Stationery and Art Gallery, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1889.
- The Thomas B. Clarke Collection of American Pictures, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1891, no. 76.
- Old Money: American Trompe l'Oeil Images of Currency, Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, 1988, no. 28, fig. 5 and frontispiece.
- Virtual Reality: American Trompe l'Oeil Paintings, Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, 1994, no catalogue.
- 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. 44, color repro.
- John Haberle: Master of Illusion, New Britain Museum of American Art; Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford; Portland (Maine)Museum of Art, 2010, unnumbered catalogue, pl. 1.
- "Exhibitions of the Month, in New York: II. National Academy of Design." Art Review 2, no. 4 (December 1887): 87.
- Marlin, Jane. "John Haberle, A Remarkable Contemporaneous Painter in Detail." The Illustrated American 24 (30 December 1898): 516.
- Frankenstein, Alfred. After the Hunt: William Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters. Rev. ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969: 116.
- Weinberg, H. Barbara. "Checklist of Paintings Owned by Thomas B. Clarke 1872-1899." In "Thomas B. Clarke: Foremost Patron of American Art from 1872 to 1899." The American Art Journal VIII, no. 1 (May 1976): 75.
- Sill, Gertrude Grace. "John Haberle, Master of Illusion." Antiques Magazine CXXVI, no. 5 (November 1984): 1229.
- Sill, Gertrude Grace. John Haberle: Master of Illusion. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts; Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County, Stamford, Connecticut; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth. Springfield, 1985: 8.
- Sill, Gertrude Grace. "Two Rediscovered Paintings by John Haberle." Antiques 132, no. 5 (November 1987): 1118-1119, pl. I, pl. II.
- Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc. American Paintings V. New York, 1988: 76-77, repro.
- Conners, Thomas. "The Art Crowd. At Berry-Hill Galleries: Buying American." M Magazine (December 1988): 80, repro.
- "News World Wide: New York." Spa Magazine (Japanese Edition) (December 1988): 117, repro.
- Hayes, Gaylen. "Entirely with a Brush and the Naked Eye." The Numismatist 102, no. 8 (August 1989): 1236-1240, 1303-1304, repro.
- Hayes, Gaylen. "Entirely with a Brush and the Naked Eye." The Numismatist 102, no. 8 (August 1989): 1237-1239, repro.
- Sill, Gertrude Grace. "Art and Money." Connoisseur (July 1990): 96, repro.
- Drucker, Johanna. "Harnett, Haberle, and Peto: Visuality and Artifice Among the Proto-Modern Americans." The Art Bulletin 74, no. 1 (March 1992): 41-42, fig. 7.
- William M. Harnett. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Fort Worth and New York, 1992-1993: 94-95, fig. 42.
- Hunting, Mary Anne. "Masters of Deception." Art & Auction XVIII, no. 8 (March 1996): 98-99, 121, repro.