Urgent Museum Notice

A Gentleman’s Table

Close up of A Gentleman’s Table

Painting of a blue tablecloth with gold and red pattern. Strewn across the top are half-empty glasses of wine and brown liquid, playing cards, lemon halves and matches. Two pipes, one long and white, one small and dark, lie next to a container of sugar cubes, corks, and bottles.

Claude Raguet Hirst, A Gentleman’s Table, after 1890; Oil on canvas, 18 x 32 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

A Gentleman’s Table
Claude Raguet Hirst

Commissioned for a Chicago men’s club, Claude Raguet Hirst’s A Gentleman’s Table subtly critiques masculine pastimes while still appealing to male patrons. The work’s hyperrealistic style exemplifies a traditional technique called trompe l’oeil, French for “deceives the eye.” At the time, trompe l’oeil works were typically painted by and for men. Hirst claimed the method as her own and refashioned it with messages appealing to female viewers. Her skill rendering tight contours, tonal values, reflections, and textures resulted in successful illusionistic images.

A Gentlemans Table includes several bottles of alcohol and a corkscrew (with a cork still attached) to indicate that drinking is ongoing at this gathering. It is as if the table’s occupants have just stepped away for a moment and will return to finish their game and drinks. At the lower left of the painting the combination of glass, spoon, sugar cube, and lemon likely suggest the presence of absinthe, seen as a potent and potentially lethal liquor.

Whereas the trompe l’oeil paintings by Hirst’s male contemporaries cast masculine leisurely pursuits in a postive light, A Gentleman’s Table offers a discourse on late 19th century social ills. In Hirst’s hands, typical accoutrements, such as pipes, cards, and glasses, may allude to vices, including gambling and alcoholism, both ingrained in male culture at the time and of particular concern to many women of the day.

Artwork Details

  • Artist

    Claude Raguet Hirst
  • Title

    A Gentleman’s Table
  • Date

    after 1890
  • Medium

    Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions

    18 x 32 in.
  • Donor Credit

    Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay
  • Photo Credit

    Lee Stalsworth
  • On Display