Curator‘s Comments

The son of a German carpenter, painter and illustrator, Alfred Kappes briefly attended the National Academy of Design at age fifteen. As a young man, Kappes worked for Harper’s Weekly and the New York Daily Graphic and also illustrated children’s books, including Sidney Lanier’s adaptations of the stories of King Arthur and Sir Galahad. Kappes lived among the African-American residents of a New York City tenement building and often used his neighbors as models. Tattered and Torn is one of the few paintings remaining by the artist. In this work, an elderly black woman, resplendent in ragged clothes, holds a lit match in a suspended moment before lighting the pipe held in her other hand. Behind her, two men sit in chairs against the wall of a sparsely furnished room. The same female model appears in Kappes’s Rent Day (1885), a painting of a landlord collecting rent from a black couple. Tattered and Torn and Rent Day, which the artist may have intended as companion pieces, were both shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Tattered and Torn

Alfred Kappes. American, 1850–1894

Tattered and Torn, 1886

Oil on canvas

Purchased with the Beatrice Oenslager Chace, class of 1928, Fund, the Rita Rich Fraad, class of 1937, Fund for American Art, the Kathleen Compton Sherrerd, class of 1954, Fund for American Art, and with restricted acquisition funds.

ID Number: SC 2001:3