When Art meets Food
Those who are drawn to Cezanne’s oeuvres have their favorites.I’ve always loved the still lifes of the artist Paul Cezanne (1839-1906). They bring home the simple pleasures of living, and often, a deep yearning for a lost way of life.
The surroundings may be rustic in many of these paintings, but the fruits spring forth in a riot of colors and sit with elegance, refinement and pride on a flowing napkin gracefully falling over a table’s side, such as in “The Kitchen Table” (1888-90). Or, in “Bread and Eggs” (1865), the long loaf and staff of life takes its place proudly and nobly, causing the viewer to feel almost humble before it.
Cezanne was born and raised in Aix-en-Provence, and later depicted the fruits and vegetables of that lush region in his paintings, revealing in the finished work a profound respect for his subjects. Contemplating these paintings, it is no wonder that food and art can be discussed with the same feelings, as it often was in the time of the Impressionists.
The second half of the nineteenth century saw rapid changes in the French life style. Cafes were rapidly proliferating in Paris, as well as in the suburbs. Waterside dining became very popular. There was a heightened awareness of culinary pleasures and French society greeted it with enthusiasm.
The artists not only sought to capture the social changes taking place but were caught up in it as well. They haunted the cafes, where they ate, drank, carried on heated debates about art and found models. And, as Alexandra Leaf points out in her lively book on the subject of art and food, “The Impressionists Table” – Recipes & Gastronomy of 19th century France” (Publ. Rizzoli), Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec were avid cooks.
An anecdote, among many in her fascinating book, is worth noting: Lautrec “maintained that to properly contemplate a painting, it was necessary to have a drink in hand. Lautrec also stated that only wine was the proper accompaniment to a meal; water, he claimed, ruined the palate. So adamant was he in his belief that Lautrec often placed carafes of water containing live goldfish on the table.”
Of course, to some of us die-hard water drinkers today, what’s a few goldfish? Ms. Leaf’s highly entertaining book is filled with such anecdotes and is well worth having – for the menus of the period alone!