Still Life: The Days of Unprocessed Food
Hello Friends! I’m out of town this week visiting Chicago. Since I haven’t been doing any cooking and have decided to not take pictures in restaurants anymore, I thought I’d share a few food-related images from my visit this morning to Chicago’s Art Institute.
I love studying these still lifes—especially the four from the 17th century—because they provide a glimpse at life before processed food. The vegetables are wild and beautiful with their uneven contours, and the dead game is a solemn reminder that meat didn’t always come wrapped on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. There is one thing, though, that hasn’t changed in the hundreds of years since these still lifes were painted: mankind’s fascination with and celebration of food.
Juan Sanchez Cotan: Still Life with Game Fowl (c. 1602) What variety of fowl! These four birds trump the generic chicken and turkey I eat.
Frans Snyders: Still Life with Dead Game, Fruits, and Vegetables in a Market (1614) The abundance of this painting reminds me an “I Spy” book. Do you spy the pickpocket?
Pieter Claesz: Still Life (1625/1630) A lavish banquet: the lemons, olives, sweetmeats and tableware are luxuries only the wealthy could have afforded.
Attributed to Paolo Antonio Barbieri: Kitchen Still Life (c. 1640) I was drawn to the simplicity of the foods in this painting: a basket of chestnuts, two wheels of cheeses, almonds, currants and mushrooms—the offerings of the land.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Fruits of the Midi (1881) Renoir probably painted these colorful peppers, eggplant, citrus and pomegranates while traveling along the Midi, the Mediterranean coast.
William Michael Harnett: For Sunday’s Dinner (1888) In person, this painting looks eerily realistic. My queasiness, however, turned to delight as I realized this naked bird was going to be Sunday’s Dinner.