Barton Hays was raised in a religious home in Ohio that had only one book containing pictures. Hays drew on barn walls with charcoal and saw his first oil painting at age twenty. He moved to northern Indiana, where after painting portraits of family and friends, he began accepting portrait commissions to earn a living. In 1858, Hays moved to Indianapolis, where he became a partner in a photography firm. He tinted photographs and painted over enlarged prints. Hays was one of the first art teachers in Indianapolis. Among his students were John Washington Love and William Merritt Chase. Much of his renown came from his ability to convince Chase’s father to allow his son to continue his studies in New York City. Hays was successful in receiving the commission to paint governor William Harrison’s portrait. He was one of the original members of the Art Association of Indianapolis, the founders of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Although Hays is best known for his portraits he also excelled at still life painting. Strawberries exemplifies the artist’s use of strong contrasts of light and dark to enhance the fruit. He often incorporated a basket from which the strawberries spilled. The texture of the berry and the delicacy of its leaves are superbly captured by Hays who used his skill to create a realistic image of this lush fruit.
Mary Burnet. Art and Artists of Indiana, Roswell, GA: Whippoorwill Publications, 1985. ISBN-13: 978-1443773805