Andrew John Henry Way’s early education offers little evidence of an interest in still life art. A native of Washington, D.C., he began his art education in Cincinnati with the portraitist John Peter Frankenstein around 1847, prior to studies in Baltimore with Alfred Jacob Miller, both of whom would have instructed him in portraiture. He pursued further tutelage in Europe at the Paris atelier of Michel Martin Drolling, as well as at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence from 1850 to 1854. Once his formal training was complete, Way returned to Baltimore and set up shop as a portrait artist in the waning days of that craft’s popularity. In 1860, Way came to the attention of visiting history painter Emanuel Leutze who encouraged him to pursue still life subject matter in the Düsseldorf style. Taking this advice to heart, Way began to paint fruit, primarily grapes, executed with great detail to form, a particular brilliance of light and typically staged against a dark background.
Way soon enjoyed the patronage of the highly successful Baltimore capitalist and art collector William Thompson Walters, who placed his personal conservatory at the artist’s disposal and acquired many of the resulting works. Despite the market demand and critical preference for vast panoramic landscapes and historic scenes, Way prospered, becoming the most important still life painter in the mid-Atlantic area during the late nineteenth century. Way, who also executed still life paintings of oysters, exhibited widely during his lifetime, participating in industrial expositions in Chicago, Cincinnati and Louisville, as well as the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. A popular figure in the flourishing Baltimore arts community, he was instrumental in the founding of the Maryland Art Academy in 1871 and the Charcoal Club of Baltimore in 1885.
A highly informed artist, Way’s early still lifes—often small groupings of fruit gathered on a precipitous marble ledge in the Dutch manner—are very reminiscent of the works of the Peale family earlier in the century. Later pictures, such as this example, are far more brooding and recall the sober still life art of Willem Kalf. The inclusion of the cantaloupe, grape and brightly colored majolica pottery in Still Life with Fruit on Silver Salver connect it to Way’s An Abundance of Fruit, held by the Morris Museum of Art.