Still Life Painters in the 20th Century

When looking at food as a subject in photography, it’s interesting to consider that still life painters in the 20th century continued to paint food objects, despite photography becoming more popular as a creative medium. In particular, Paul Cezanne focussed his attention on the artistic possibilities in the still life genre.

Paul Cézanne, Still-Life with Teapot, 1869

A switch from realist paintings, the subject of the painting did not necessarily have to resemble anything that actually existed. The general approach to still life painting of the time “tried to probe the potential of the painting medium by experimenting with form and colour, flattening three-dimensional perspective and simplifying composition” (Malaguzzi, S. 2008, p57) Later in the 20th century, food in still life paintings was depicted as a symbol of consumer society. “The industrialized production of food and its display in supermarkets are seen as tangible signs of the violence of capitalism.” (Malaguzzi, S. 2008, p57)  Rather than focus on the ingredients like previous still life paintings, packaging and brand labels featured heavily. In particular, the Pop art movement in the 1960s in the United States “denounced the excesses of consumerism, and ironically, celebrated industrially produced food as a primary expression of mass goods whose consumption is obsessively encouraged by advertising.” (Malaguzzi, S. (2008) p57) This can be seen in the well-known work of Andy Warhol, in his depiction of Campbell’s soup cans.

Andy Warhol, 200 Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

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  1. Pingback: Pop Art and the Food Landscape | The History of Food Photography

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