Fruit has been used as subject matter in paintings for centuries. From Caravaggio’s delectable fruit baskets and sensual pomegranate halves through to Cezanne’s citrus shades and Wesselman’s overtly political pears, fruit is traditionally used as a symbol of decay and the ephemerality of life. Here at Mark Mitchell Paintings we decided to take a closer look at fruit in art.
The appeal of fruit to painters
As a subject matter, fruit is readily available to most still life painters and those who are interested in representations of natural forms. Like flowers and vegetables, fruit could be said to mimic the human form and allows the artist to make subtle suggestions of sex and death, without being overtly shocking.
The appeal of fruit also lies in its ephemerality. As an object that dies and withers quickly, fruit is an incredibly potent symbol of decay and the bittersweet nature of human life. Stephen Rose perfectly represents this in his Peaches with greengages and a cherry.
Edouard Manet, Still Life with Salmon, 1866
One example of this is Edouard Manet’s ‘Still Life with Salmon’. The freshly cut salmon and tangy yellow lemons sit on the table suggesting notions of wealth, flavour and the nourishing nature of the world. Simultaneously, it could be said that Manet is suggesting the temporality of everything. The meal is beautiful, and yet it is abandoned. We are struck by the sense that what is delicious at one point in time will no longer be delicious an hour later, when it has been left out on the table. Perhaps this serves to emphasise the beauty of a meal in the moment; never again will it be as appealing, which surely makes it all the more important at a particular point in time.
Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Apples, 1898
Cezanne used fruit to break traditional rules of perspective, in order to prompt the viewer into considering the possibilities of painting. In ‘Still Life with Apples’, he purposely paints the fruit in the bowl with undefined edges, in order to interrogate perceptions of perspective and light. Cezanne’s fruit forces us to reconsider our ideas about the way the physical world is represented.
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