A History of Fruit and Art

“With an apple I will astonish Paris.” – Paul Cézanne, 1839-1906

Fruit’s existence is one of my favorite parts of being a human. It sounds silly, but the sensation of eating something that is explicitly designed by nature for that purpose fills me with a wonderful sense of contentment. Fruit is beautiful to look at, beautiful to smell, and most of all, beautiful to taste. It’s no wonder why it has been the subject of artistic study dating back as far as Ancient Egypt! This week I thought it would be fun to deep-dive this extremely specific, yet delicious subject.

As mentioned earlier, connotations of fruit have saturated history as far back Ancient Egyptian times. Tombs often contained depictions of various foods, welcoming nourishment into the Egyptian afterlife. In ancient Italy, fruit was often depicted in sculpture and painting, including this Fourth-Style fresco in the now defunct seaside getaway for the Roman bourgeoisie known as Herculaneum.

Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar (left), Still Life with a Silver Tray with Prunes, Dried figs, Dates and Glass of Wine (center), and Still Life with Branch of Peaches, Fourth Style wall painting from Herculaneum, Italy, c. 62-69 C.E., fresco, 14 x 13 1/2 inches (Archaeological Museum, Naples)

It is important to note that many variants of the fruits we ate today existed in much different shapes and forms throughout history, it is only fairly recently (especially with the rise of GMO products) that fruit has come to look like it does to us, bearing the industrial sameness that influences the presentation of most products today. 17th-century Flemish painter Frans Snyders depicted fruit as being more fantastical and wild, however this was likely the true form of fruit at the time. (Also note the difference in the way the squirrel looks in the piece compared to those we see in modern times!)

Frans Snyders, Still Life with Fruit, Wan-Li Porcelain, and Squirrel, 1616

In the mid-19th and early-20th century, fruit was used nearly unanimously as the focus of still life pieces. Many artists spanning the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Expressionist movement all utilized this subject during the mastery of their skills, tying beauty and aesthetics to a universally liked object. Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and nearly all other prominently studied artists during these periods painted still lives of fruit.

Paul Cézanne, Bouilloire et fruits, 1888-1890. 

It would be hard to discuss the fruity merit of more modern art without mentioning Warhol’s Banana. Bold, simple, and sexual, this piece speaks as a strong example of the Pop Art movement, furthering itself into this narrative through the adoption of it by The Velvet Underground & Nico for their self titled album in 1967. The prints of the record were encased in the album art depicting the Banana, with Warhol taking it a step further and allowing the consumer to peel off the Banana as a sticker which would reveal the edible, pulpy part of a banana… colored pink of course. Current prints of the record still have this feature (I can attest personally)!

The Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground and Nico. Art By Andy Warhol, 1967.

These days, its not uncommon for industrially produced fake fruit to adorn our homes as decoration, however as nerdy as it is, the history of fruit as an object of artistic beauty never ceases to amaze me in the different ways it has been presented!

Also, I just wanted to include this portrait because of how simply amazing it is.

Vertumnus, a portrait depicting Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor painted as Vertumnus, the Roman god of the seasons, c. 1590–91. Skokloster Castle, Sweden.

Featured Image is Andy Warhol’s Banana, 1967

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