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John Frederick Peto and Peto family papers, 1850-1983

Peto, John Frederick, 1854-1907


The papers of John Frederick Peto and the Peto family in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2006. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 665 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 2.1 Linear feet

Summary: The papers of still life artist John Frederick Peto and his family date from circa 1850 to 1983 and measure 2.1 linear feet. Within the papers are scattered biographical materials, a few letters to and from Peto, and his daughter Helen Peto Smiley's correspondence with galleries, scholars, and others concerning Peto's artwork. Also found are news clippings, exhibition catalogs, and other printed material, photographs and glass plate negatives of Peto, his family, and his artwork, and one small oil sketch fragment. Much of the collection documents the mid-twentieth century renewed interest in Peto's artwork.

Biographical/Historical Note

John Frederick Peto (1854-1907) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Hope Peto and Catherine Peto. He was raised by his mother's family, the Hamms, and lived with them until his marriage. Little is known about his early life; he was listed as a painter in the Philadelphia City Directory in 1876 and was enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1878. During this time he also became friends with fellow artist William Harnett and was greatly influenced by Harnett's trompe l'oeil still life paintings. During the 1880s Peto maintained a studio and exhibited several works at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual exhibition. Like Harnett, he painted trompe l'oeil still life paintings, most notably, rack-looking structures or shelves that depicted a variety of items, many of them autobiographical. Peto also lived briefly in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he met Christine Pearl Smith, and they were married in 1889. He received very little recognition for his paintings in Philadelphia, and in 1889 he and his wife moved to Island Heights, New Jersey so that he could make money playing the cornet at religious revivals held there. In 1893 they had a daughter Helen. Though he lost interest in the professional art world and fell into obscurity, Peto continued painting and sold many works to the local drug store and business people, until his death in 1907.


The collection was donated in 2004 by Gregory Bejarano, John Frederick Peto's great-grandson.

Language Note

English .


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.