Tag Archives: Pieter Claesz

Art of the lemon…

European artists have long loved painting lemons

manet lemon

Eduoard Manet, "The Lemon." Manet painted this perfectly simple lemon near the end of his life, in 1880.

Lemons on a Plate and a Carafe, Van Gogh, 1887

Lemons on a Plate and a Carafe, Van Gogh, 1887

Vincent van Gogh painted these lemons when he lived in Arles. I really like that blue-green table with the lines circling round. And the wallpaper. And the carafe.  And, of course, the lemons.

Lemons and Saxifrages

Lemons and Saxifrages

Henri Matisse chose a red and white check background for his decorative lemons in 1943. I’m not sure what Saxifrages are.

Pieter Claesz still life

I think it’s safe to say that no one was more enamored of lemons than the 17th century Dutch still-life painters. They painted them on banquet tables, sometimes with mincemeat pies and oysters, nearly always with wine nearby.

Pieter Claesz liked to paint his lemons reflected on big pewter plates, as in the still life above from around 1625, which I saw at the Chicago Art Institute.

The Dutch liked some lemon peel to flavor their spirits, so you’ll often see lemons near cups of wine, the fruit cut open and half peeled.  A great opportunity for those master painters to show off their talents, rendering glistening cut lemons and curling spirals of golden light.

Still Life, 1634

Still Life, 1634

Yesterday I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see the exhibit of Dutch art from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and encountered the stunning picture above by Willem Claesz Heda.

The placard said the lemon represented “moderation.” ?? What were they thinking when they wrote that? I don’t agree at all. If anything, the lemon was just as luxurious as the gold, silver and pewter. Heda painted each light-reflecting object with a loving reverence.

Still life with gilt goblet

Still life with gilt goblet

Here’s another of Heda’s still life paintings with lemon. He liked to paint the curling ribbon of zest spilling off the table, drawing the viewer’s eye away from the center of the painting.

Alchemists’ work, turning tin and arsenic and vegetable juices into golden fruit painted with a kind of showy complication and variety that suggests there must have been competition among the painters of lemons.

Above is a quote from Mark Doty’s lovely little book, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, which is both an ode to the still life form and a meditation on ordinary objects and time.

Raphaelle Peale, "Lemons and Sugar," 1822

Raphaelle Peale, "Lemons and Sugar," 1822

And let’s not forget the American artist, Raphaelle Peale, who loved to paint the still life — and lemons!

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under food history, lemon, Still-life

I love lemons. Actually, I’m a little obsessed with them.

bowl of lemons 2

About 8 or 9 years ago, I embarked on a lemon odyssey of travel, research and discovery.

Still Life with Two Lemons. by Pieter Claes

I found lots of good company in my obsession. Like Pieter Claesz and other seventeenth-century Dutch still-life artists who loved painting lemons–not only because they’re beautiful but also because they symbolized exotic luxury and desirability.

FrankMeyerOr Frank N. Meyer, an eccentric plant explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who walked (yes, walked) thousands of miles across Asia to collect hardy plants — and in 1908 discovered the lemon tree in a Peking courtyard that’s now named after him. On one three-year journey, Meyer walked 1,800 miles on narrow mountain trails, weathering howling icy dust storms and snowstorms. In only three months, he wore out three pairs of boots. I didn’t get to actually meet him, but….

Eleonora Consoli in her kitchen at Viagrande, Sicily

Eleonora Consoli in her kitchen at Viagrande, Sicily

I did meet Eleonora Consoli, an authority on Sicilian cooking when I visited her at her home in Viagrande, Sicily, on the slopes of Mount Etna. Signora Consoli loves cooking with lemons–juice, zest and even leaves– and has a lemon tree in her courtyard.

"I'm bullish on lemons," says Bob Grether. "I'm an optimist."

"I'm bullish on lemons," says Bob Grether. "I'm an optimist."

And Bob Grether, a delightful second-generation farmer in Ventura County, who has taken me on many tours of Grether Farming Company’s citrus orchards. His equally delightful wife, Sally, always has a pitcher of fresh lemonade in the refrigerator.

Mario at his lemonade stand, August, 2007

Mario at his lemonade stand, August, 2007

And Mario di Paolo, of Mario’s Italian Lemonade on Taylor Street in Chicago,  my hometown. Mario & co. make fabulous lemon ice, very much like the granita of Sicily.


granita

Lemon and peach granita in Acireale, Sicily

For American lemonade, try my recipe in the page above.

3 Comments

Filed under citrus, food history, Frank N. Meyer, Grether, lemon, Meyer lemons