trusted online casino malaysia
Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

The old violin

The old violin

Who wants to play it?

I recently discovered this painting, and it intrigued me. At the end of the 19th century, The Old Violin was one of the most popular images in America. Painted by William Michael Harnett in 1886, its realism astonished viewers. It’s one of the best examples of trompe l'oeil (translated “fool the eye”) and was so affecting, galleries that displayed it had to hire police to keep the crowds from touching the canvas to convince themselves it wasn’t real.

It’s a simple image but the details are fascinating. Would you look at a few with me?

The violin and bow

Though it’s an antique instrument (owned and treasured by Harnett), two things speak to its ongoing use: the bow is strung and ready, and there is rosin on the violin itself. It didn’t come out from a deep closet. It was recently played.

The sheet music

Two songs are reproduced on the bright paper (and remember, these notes and lines are painted!). Both were considered popular tunes despite their melancholy titles: “Oh remembrance of scenes long vanished” and “Alas, what sorrow.” This is not high-brow music. More like maudlin melodies.

The clipping

A scrap of newspaper is adhered to the board. It’s unreadable, despite the delicate brushwork.  It has the vague look of a review, notice or obituary.

The envelope

Angled from the bottom – to appear tucked into the frame – is a letter addressed to the artist.  (This is in lieu of a signature.) The postmark is Paris, where Harnett had recently been accepted to the prestigious Paris Salon, a high point of his career.


What does it mean? I can’t say what the artist intended, but here’s what it speaks to me. So many of the elements point to a life lived: the antique violin, the weathered door, the missing hinge rivet, the dog-eared clipping and loss-themed music. This feels like a memory box.

And in the spirit of Psalm 103:16, these details – even the accolades and accomplishments – seem ready to fade away, “and its place remembers it no more.”

But the violin remains ready to be played.

The other day, I walked past this vestige of a piano. Since I have been meditating on this painting, the contrast struck me immediately. No one is playing this piano anymore. But the violin hangs, tuned, bow rosined, inviting us to make music again.

What, then, is the violin? To me, it is the essence of life lived in connection with God -- time and talent, given by him and returned to him. As Paul has said:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Col. 3:17

So, whether we’ve been applauded by the powers-that-be or spent our lives playing tunes that will soon be forgotten, every melody has a sweet eternal ring to it when played for the honor and pleasure of our Lord.

And though all else fades, the violin waits to be played afresh.

Lord, may all that we do be like music to your ears and delight to your heart.

Reader: What thoughts do you have about the painting?  How would you interpret it?

I’d love to hear from you at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you liked this post, please use the buttons above to share it.  And if you haven't subscribed and would like to, here's the link.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

Latest from Bruce Van Patter

Subscribe to Ailbe Newsletters

Sign up to receive our email newsletters and read columns about revival, renewal, and awakening built upon prayer, sharing, and mutual edification.