This discussion highlights "food! glorious food!" From scenes of Kansas wheat fields to New York delicatessens, American painters celebrate the bounty of the good earth and our enjoyment of it. Artists guide participants full circle, from planting to harvesting, from the beauty of luscious fruits artfully arranged to the joy we share when gathering for meals. Join us in "Bon Appétit!," a feast for the eyes.
Our presentation begins in the fields. Pitting man against nature, Thomas Hart Benton painted a harvest mural for Kansas City that personifies forces of nature and creates a farming allegory.
In Achelous and Hercules, he casts a farmer as Hercules fighting the raging river god in the form of a bull to win the princess of abundance. In addition, seasons that regulate the farmer's life are the subjects of prints by Grant Wood. Men and women who have labored in the fields—depicted in Sharecropper by Elizabeth Catlett and Our Good Earth by John Steuart Curry—convey courage and dignity.
Between the field and the table, we stop in kitchens old and new, east and west. For example, artists from Ivan Albright to Peter Blume portrayed women peeling vegetables—a common activity before the introduction of packaged convenience foods. Childhood memories of a southwestern kitchen prompted Cocina Jaiteca, by Larry Yáñez, while Robert Cunningham captured the excitement of eating in downtown Brooklyn restaurants.
These and other artworks reflect the meanings we attach to food—from planting to plate—and recall time-honored rituals and traditions.
Pictured top: Helen Searle, Still Life with Fruit and Champagne, 1869, oil, 11 1/8 x 14 1/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase
Pictured second: Thomas Hart Benton, Achelous and Hercules, 1947, tempera and oil, 62 7/8 x 264 1/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Allied Stores Corporation, and Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program
Pictured bottom: Peter Blume, Vegetable Dinner, 1927, oil, 25 1/4 x 30 1/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase