Levi Wells Prentice painting of raspberries

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Levi Wells Prentice (1851-1935) was a popular American landscape and still life painter with an association with the Hudson River School of artists who were active in the mid to late 1800s. A native of rural New York state, Prentice had an art studio in Brooklyn, NY and exhibited his paintings with the Brooklyn Art Association. While he grew up on a farm in upstate New York, Prentice opened another art studio of his own in Syracuse, NY, circa 1875, from which he painted some of his well-known depictions of the Adirondack mountains and other natural surroundings of the area. 

Prentice experienced success as a painter of traditional landscape vistas like his fellow artists working in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Vistas, mountains, and landscapes of the eastern United States became Prentice’s premier subjects in the early phase of his career and still life’s impacted his later career production.

Still life paintings

Levi Prentice painting

While he still produced landscape paintings, Prentice turned to still life paintings after 1883. His focus was fruit and  his compositions were very typical of what became known as his mature still life style. The very attractive still life paintings show references to the 19th Century revival of still life paintings looking back to the Dutch masters like Heda, de Heem, Rausch, etc.

Most commonly, Prentice would capture the subject–pears, raspberries, grapes, apples, strawberries, and other fruits–in natural surroundings such as at a farm stand, spilling out of a basket, freshly picked on the ground, etc. His fruit still lifes were in keeping with the almost-photographic looking paintings of the Americans painting in the trompe l’oeuil manner like Harnett, Haberle, and Peto.

Prentice relocated in the early years of the 1900s to the suburban area of Germantown, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. Prentice continued to paint attractive paintings for clients and he showed his work in highly acclaimed exhibitions. Prentice, like fellow Pennsylvania-based artist, Ben Badura of the New Hope Artist Colony of Pennsylvania Impressionism, hand made his own frames to accompany some of his paintings. Prentice also made art supplies by hand.

Prentice’s works are held by private collectors and prestigious museums including the Yale University Art Gallery, the MFA in Boston, and the Philbrook Museum of Art to name a few.

Art Market

Prentice’s landscape and still life paintings have their own individual place in the art market. Traditional, realistic compositions of New York’s regional landscapes which feature mountains, fences, barns, hay bales, and farmland by Prentice command between $5,000 and $50,000.

Still life paintings, which have become very popular over the last 20 years or so, depict fruit fresh from the farm or orchard and are sought after with collectors. The still lifes regularly command big bucks, ranging from the $15,000 to $90,000 for good quality examples. Rarity, compositional elements, skill in execution, and condition all factor into an evaluation of these paintings.

Like the work of Walter Emerson Baum, there are many Prentice fakes and forgeries on the market which can confuse collectors. Authenticating an artist’s signature serves as only one of many tools necessary to identify an original painting. True experts are never satisfied by just seeing a signature. Many other factors and experience reviewing the work of Prentice is how one knows if a painting is original or a fake.

Get an online appraisal of your Levi Wells Prentice painting from Dr. Lori