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Pulp Non-Fiction

William-McCloskey_Wrapped-Oranges

It's easy to be seduced by the vibrant colors and lush, realistic imagery of many of the still lifes in Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine. The oranges, as they say, look good enough to eat. But as you look beyond the surface, there's a lot more to see.

In this case, McCloskey's Wrapped Oranges speaks to industrial and agricultural advances of the 19th century. Prior to 1881, a painting like this one would have been almost impossible. First of all, McCloskey lived in Philadelphia. Oranges were grown in more tropical climates. And because of this, oranges were a costly luxury. But the invention of refrigerated rail cars in 1881 (by a Chicagoan!) enabled fresh produce to travel great distances. By the end of the 19th century, oranges were a widely available commodity. The tissue paper surrounding the oranges (which looks incredibly life-like in person) also served to preserve oranges during transit.

Check out the exhibition before it closes on January 27 for insights on early locavores and home gardening, the rise of the restaurant and food pairings, and what just might have served as the equivalent of the first food truck.

William J. McCloskey. Wrapped Oranges, 1889. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Acquisition in memory of Katrine Deakins, Trustee, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 1961–1985.