All About Eats: Art and the American Imagination in Chicago

More durable still is the fish painting. Attracted by their shimmering scales and sinuous forms, Wil­liam Merritt Chase, represented by An English Cod of 1904 and Still Life, Fish of 1912, made a specialty of aquatic vertebrates, painting them to acclaim between about 1900 and his death in 1916. As Ellen E. Roberts relates, American museums rushed to acquire bravura works by the man who, following European precedent, was considered a master of the nature morte. Marsden Hartley re­jected his teacher's overt aestheticism, infusing Banquet in Silence, his spare still life of three plated fish, with symbolic overtones (Fig. 11).

Fig. 11. Banquet in Silence by Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), 1935-1936. Inscribed "Banquet in Silence/Marsden Hartley/ 1935-6," on the back. Oil on canvas board, 15 ⅞ by 20 inches. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Alfred Stieglitz Collection.

Sharply topical social commentary characterized much genre and trompe-l'oeil painting in the second half of the nineteenth century. Popular if not criti­cally acclaimed, Lilly Martin Spencer has grown in stature since her rediscovery in the early 1970s and is today seen as a trailblazer who supported a family while pursuing a career. Madsen calls Shake Hands?, Spencer's 1854 painting of a cheerfully industrious cook pausing to offer the viewer her floury hand, "a sort of etiquette lesson," offering myriad clues to changing social customs (Fig. 1).

 Art and Appetite is at its best when its two subjects fully merge, as they do in its consideration of trompe-l'oeil painting. Barter sees a parallel between Mark Twain's plainspoken preference for American people and places and the plucked fowl and peanuts of artists William Michael Harnett and John Haberle. Current events spill corrosively onto the canvas in the The Irish Question, which depicts two potatoes, none too subtle surrogates for the Irish themselves, dangling by their necks (Fig. 18). The painting by De Scott Evans dates to around 1888, when Britain's Parliament was debating Irish home rule and Irish-American immigrants were crudely caricatured in the popular press.

Still, food has had a way of bringing Americans of diverse backgrounds together. Jefferson and Nathan­iel Hawthorne were partial to pasta, then called macaroni. Promoted by New York restaurants such as Delmonico's and Mouquin's, the latter depicted by William Glackens in 1905, French food was embraced as the acme of sophistication in the Gilded Age. Italian food was the down market alternative, as suggested by Renganeschi's Saturday Night, John Sloan's 1912 painting of young working women, among others, out for a bite.

Fig. 14. At Mouquin's by William Glackens (1870-1938), 1905. Signed "W. Glackens" at lower left. Oil on canvas, 48 ⅛ by 36 ¼ inches. Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection.

In At Mouquin's (Fig. 14), the worldly Madame Mouquin shares a cocktail with a Manhattan man-about-town. Sexual roles and relations are a subtext of much of Art and Appetite. Nowhere is the tension more acute than the 1927 painting Vegetable Dinner, Peter Blume's brilliant split-screen juxtaposition of old and new. Beyond his conflicted portrayal of the modern woman, Blume's vegetarianism, notes Art Institute associate curator Sarah Kelly Oehler, and Purist style of painting telegraph his radical stance.

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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