The first survey in around fifty years of the artwork of Swiss-born French artist, Felix Vallotton (1865-1925), who in the words of art critic Roberta Smith sat out modernist abstraction preferring representational styles, is currently on exhibit (until January 26, 2020) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
No surprise that this exhibition, Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet, which includes painted portraits, landscapes, and domestic scenes (from more than two dozen lenders) artfully captures the imagery of fin-de-siècle Paris. Also included in the show, of special interest to this visitor, were finely crafted paintings of food related subjects.
Vallotton’s depiction of a Parisian produce market in At The Market (1895) and The Cook (1892) both from the collection of Marlene and Spencer Hays, and The Coffee Service (1887) from an unnamed private collection, capture aspects of domestic life in late 19th century Paris.
But it is a hyper-realistic still life of Red Peppers (1915) from the Swiss museum, Kunstmuseum Solothurn, which stopped this museum goer in his tracks. Painted during World War I, Swiss-born Félix Vallotton, according to the painting’s label, was proud of his new French citizenship and disappointed at his rejection when he wanted to enlist in the French army at the age of 50. Somewhat unexpected is the “metaphoric content” also referenced in the painting’s label: the knife may be red to denote a weapon of war. No doubt the red paint glows, but it is the close observation of the shapes and color of the peppers that remain magical in the 21st century.
An oil on canvas of Apples (1919) from the Swiss museum, Kunst Museum Winterthur, like the painting of red peppers, is also evidence of Vallotton’s talent in depicting the shapes and color of the fruitful bounty of nature. Spirits lifting.
And a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the upper Eastside of Manhattan is the newly opened New York City location of the internationally known European art gallery, Galerie Gmurzynska, founded in Cologne, Germany in 1965 and now based in Zurich, Switzerland. The inaugural exhibition at its Manhattan location, What’s for Dinner? A Brief History of Food in Art (until January 31, 2020), was a fitting complement, like a cherry on the sundae, to the survey of the artwork of Vallotton at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the entrance area to this Manhattan gallery, Robert Indiana’s (1928-2018) The Electric Eat, first shown at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Park in NYC’s borough of Queens, greets visitors.
Several of the works on display inside the gallery were also exhibited at the 2015 Expo Milan Art & Food Pavilion. Paintings on display include those of Georges Braque, Sonia Delaunay, Edouard Vuillard and Wayne Thiebaud, as well as sculptures and drawings.
Of particular interest were vintage photos by Dmitry Yermakov (alternative spelling: Dmitri Ivanovich Ermakov). His photos of water carriers (transporting water in huge animal skin bags) and a vendor of grains and beans in Tbilisi, Georgia, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia were fascinating in capturing a far off way of sourcing water and food. At a time when the federal government is terminating environmental protections for roughly half of the country’s wetlands and millions of miles of streams, changes that will threaten ecosystems, add harmful pollution to waterways, and endanger our drinking water, these vintage photos remind the viewer not to take for granted potable water and nutritious food.
(Frank W. Barrie, 1/21/20)