Harnett’s paintings were extremely popular with the public, but most critics thought his works were mere trickery. Both groups ignored his outstanding skill in abstract composition. After a long period of disrepute, Harnett’s works again were appreciated and sought after in the mid-20th century.
Harnet preferred, for his still life subjects, musical instruments, hunted animals and firearms.
Harnett’s expertise in trompe d’oeil inspired an entire American school of this style of painting in the later nineteenth century that continued into the nineteen twenties. There were many skilled practitioners in this style, but most critics agree that William Harnett was unsurpassed in his elegance of design and skill of execution.