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Still Life with Grapes, Peaches, and Pear by Abbie Luella (Manchester) Zuill

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This early work by Zuill depicts an arrangement of fruit presented on a polished tabletop with an elaborate edge, carved with a series of overlapping geometric devices. The composition is elegant in its simplicity. Two ripe peaches are displayed with a pear, its tender, softly mottled skin marred by a single blemish, set before bunches of succulent grapes, one green and the other purplish black. The light reflects off the glossy parts of the grapes’ semi-translucent skin, rubbed void of the natural, waxy bloom and furnishing a mirror-like surface.

Versions of this table-edge ornamentation appear in other paintings by the artist, although she utilized a wide range of decorative schemes. Very much in the manner of her teacher, Robert Spear Dunning (1829-1905), the tabletop edge is parallel to the plane of the composition; this format is one typically employed by the artists of the Fall River School.


  • Excerpt from a letter from Doug Borden to the FRHS curator: “In memory of my deceased wife, Joan Louise Borden. This contribution is in recognition of our marriage on August 28, 1956, a day I shall commemorate as long as I live.”

Details of Painting

  • Artist : Abbie Luella Zuill
  • Artist Dates: : 1856-1921
  • Genre : Still Life
  • Year : 1891
  • Material : Oil on Canvas
  • Dimension : 9" x 14 1/2"
  • Object ID# : 2022.33.1

About the Artist

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Abbie Luella Zuill

Fall River, Massachusetts

Abbie Luella (Manchester) Zuill (American, 1856-1921), an artist best known for her still life paintings of fruit and flowers, was born in Westport, Massachusetts, but spent most of her life and career in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Abbie received her earliest education in the Fall River public school system, but little else is known about her childhood. In 1872, she married William Pratt Zuill Jr., a sailmaker employed by his father in the family’s well-known establishment on the Fall River waterfront; they were the parents of one son, Robert Winfield Zuill (1873-1955). The marriage does not appear to have been successful. By 1891, Zuill and her son were living apart from William and, although they did not divorce, the couple never resided together again. Following their separation, she established her own household and very briefly styled herself Mrs. Wm. P. Zuill, after which she used Mrs. Ella Zuill, and lastly Mrs. A. Luella Zuill. She forged a career as a professional artist, and, by 1893, she was indicated as such in the Fall River city directories and other official records.

Zuill’s relationship with her mother, Hannah A. (Vickery) Manchester Allen (1834-1908), can also be called into question. Curiously, Hannah’s 1908 obituary mentions only one survivor, “the well-known soprano soloist, Miss Susie M. Allen,” her daughter with her second husband, George Francis Allen (1840-1898), and thus the artist’s half-sister. Zuill, who was the only daughter of Hannah and her first husband, Henry Manchester, about whom nothing is known, is not mentioned, despite, by that time, having achieved recognition as an artist.

Zuill was a student of Robert Spear Dunning (1829-1905) and is reputed to have been a favored pupil of the artist; her work “ranked so near the master that he was always eager to place her paintings, having a pride in them equal almost to his justifiable pride in his own work.” Following Dunning’s death, she was called upon to complete some of the unfinished canvases left in his studio.

It is unknown during which years Zuill studied with Dunning, but under his tutelage she became a highly proficient artist, specializing in elegant fruit and floral still life paintings, presented on tables with elaborately carved-edge moldings and a highly polished finish, allowing for deep reflections.

Zuill’s output, in addition to still life paintings of fruit and flowers – roses were a favorite subject – included landscapes, and cunning studies of mice, the appealing creatures depicted feasting on doughnuts, nuts, or cheese, and, in at least one instance, entangled in a mass of colorful embroidery thread.

She showed her work throughout New England and her exhibitions were widely attended. One such event, staged in her Fall River studio in December 1896, saw her paintings exhibited alongside “a fine line of Turkish goods” displayed by Shehadi Abdallah Shehadi (1874-1943), a Lebanese lecturer and rug importer residing in Providence, Rhode Island. Eager to promote her pictures, she displayed major pieces in druggists’ and jeweler’s windows on Fall River’s busy Main Street, where they attracted “much attention.” In this marketing idiosyncrasy she was not alone; it was the common practice of prominent Fall River School artists to show their work in the same manner. Wider acclaim came when several of her paintings were reproduced for sale by Foster Brothers, the noted Boston manufacturer of fine art prints.

Throughout her career, the way she signed her paintings differed, with her name appearing as L. Zuill, E. Zuill, A. E. Zuill, or A. L. Zuill, corresponding to Luella Zuill, Ella Zuill, Abbie Ella Zuill, or Abbie Luella Zuill. All are versions of her given name, by which she was known to her contemporaries; her closest friends referred to her by the diminutive, Ella.

In 1912, Zuill moved with her son to nearby Somerset, Massachusetts, where she maintained a studio and taught painting, giving lessons of two-hour’s duration. She was remembered by one of her students as “a respectable, quiet living person,” to whom “the details of nature were very important.” Her obituary lauded her as “a leading artist … for many years” who “had “devoted the greater part of her life to art.”

Zuill was an independent, working woman and a trailblazer. She attained the distinction of being the only woman professionally painting and exhibiting with the group of artists recognized as the Fall River School.

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  • Due to a major infrastructure project, the FRHS Museum will be closed beginning July 22, 2023. The Musem Shop is closed until further notice.