by Dr. Lori Verderame
Did you ever look at a still life painting and think, what is the deal with all the fruit paintings?
Historically, still life paintings recall the tradition of artists showing their ability to paint realistically and to visually make common objects come to life. A longstanding training exercise in the world’s art schools and academies, still life painting remains popular with artists and collectors.
From the Dutch masters to the French Impressionists, fruit still lifes remain of interest. Some of art history’s biggest names: Rembrandt, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, O’Keeffe all made something special out of the common bowl of fruit.
The individual fruits have something to say for themselves, too. They serve as symbols in art, antiques, and design. For example, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality–fruity welcome sign of sorts. You can fine images of pineapples on Colonial period bedposts, garden planters, wrought iron gates, vintage textiles, and certainly, welcome mats.
Apples are associated with the family. Throughout American art history, many portraits of Federal period mothers residing throughout the original 13 colonies are depicted along with a bowl of the bright red, crunchy fruits. This connection between apples and families prompted the common phrase, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Also, giving an apple to one’s teacher was a gesture inviting her within the family circle.
Art and antiques history dictates that cherries symbolize something new, pure and pristine. Most people associate cherries with something brought back to its original condition like a lovingly restored classic car. You have heard phrases like “that restored ’67 Chevy is cherry.
On the other hand, the lemon is associated with something sour, faulty, or unreliable. While whole lemons are symbols of friendship in art and antiques (e.g., 18th Century lemon ring wreaths hang on the back door where friends enter a home), a painting featuring figures with a lemon that has been cut or peeled indicates that a friendship has gone bad.
Once viewed as the fruit of royalty, blueberries have a relationship to kings because of their regal, almost purple, color. As such, many royally commissioned artworks show a monarch, or even the Virgin Mary wearing blue. In Renaissance art, blue paint was among the most expensive to produce: a mixture of ground lapis lazuli and pigment binders. The paintings that used this blue color were held in high regard. You may have noticed that blue is the color reserved for the mantle worn by the Virgin Mary in many Renaissance and Baroque works of art.
Christian Color Theory
Grapes symbolize the Biblical notion of fertility and grapes are associated with wine or Christ’s sacrificial blood.
And, the marriage of red and green grapes speaks to color theory as red and green are complimentary colors. Complimentary colors or color pairs stimulate the optic nerve when grouped together. This color pair makes the two grape types more attractive to viewers or eaters, as the case may be. This is a tip for chefs who want to make their food presentations appear more appetizing.
Get an online appraisal of your still life painting from Dr. Lori.