Elegant arrangements of cookies or cakes, lavish and overflowing arrays of fruits, or the remnants of a gluttonous feast—depictions of food in art certainly convey a passion for culinary delights. Yet, still-life paintings of edibles also speak volumes about their cultural context. American artists have used food to both celebrate and critique their developing society; express ideas relating to politics, race, class, gender, and commerce; and investigate American identity. This exhibition brings together over 100 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the 18th through the 20th century, along with a selection of period cookbooks, menus, trade cards, and posters, to explore the art and culture of food and examine the many meanings and interpretations of eating in America.
From the earliest years of the United States, American artists such as Raphaelle Peale used still-life painting to express cultural, political, and social values, elevating the genre to a significant aesthetic language. In antebellum America, depictions of food highlighted abundance and increasing wealth. Elegant decanters of wine and spirits in still-life paintings by John F. Francis reflect the prevalence of drinking and the mid-century debates over temperance. During the Gilded Age, despite the implications of the term, American artists moved away from excess and eschewed high Victorian opulence in favor of painting the simple meal. Many artists, such as William Harnett or De Scott Evans, also used food pictures to serve up biting political commentary that addressed the social and economic changes of the 1880s and 1890s.
In the 20th century new ways of eating and socializing began to change depictions of food in art. Restaurant dining—still novel in the United States in the late 19th century—became a common subject in the works of William Glackens, John Sloan, and others. Café and cocktail culture became increasingly important, described in the work of Stuart Davis and Gerald Murphy, even as Prohibition banned the consumption of alcohol.
Finally, during the 1950s and 1960s, Pop artists Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg addressed the ways in which mass production and consumption dramatically altered the American experience of food. Hamburgers, fries, and cakes were painted as objects of mass-produced comestibles without human referent. Artists employed new means to express their distance from the tangible reality of food, the visual power of advertising, the standardization of American meals from factory-produced products, and the gluttony of American appetites.
Today as professional and home chefs increasingly turn toward local, organic food and American society ponders its history as a fast-food nation, this exhibition on the historical art of eating allows viewers to look at depictions of American food and culture with new meaning and fresh eyes.
Organizer Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago.
Sponsors Lead Corporate Sponsor
Major support is provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art and an anonymous donor.
Additional funding is provided by Mr. and Mrs. Morris S. Weeden and the Suzanne and Wesley M. Dixon Exhibition Fund.
The exhibition catalogue is funded by The Jacob and Rosaline Cohn Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Wesley M. Dixon, Jr.
Annual support is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Goldman Sachs, Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, the Trott Family Foundation, and the Woman’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago.
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.
From Sheepes Tongue Pie and Tomato Soup Cake to Graham Elliot's Seafood Chowder and Tony and Cathy Mantuano's Turkey with Grappa and Gemolata, our online cookbook celebrates Art and Appetite with over 50 recipes—both classic American dishes and innovative new offerings from Chicago's leading chefs.
Discover the following scrumptious recipes from Chicago's celebrated culinary leaders in our online cookbook.
3 hours 34 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975
Provoke was the English-language title for a Japanese photo magazine of the late 1960s; the name also designates the group of photographers and writers who put that formative publication together. Their influence has grown so great that the “Provoke era” is now international shorthand for sixties counterculture in Japan. This generational uprising swelled from the massive unrest, and sheer cultural disorientation, that accompanied the country’s transformation from ruined empire to superpower after World War II.
This exhibition places the achievements of Provoke alongside those of protesters and protest collectives, who made riveting photobooks, films, and photographs throughout the same era, as well as artists and art collectives keenly interested in live performance and its relation to the mechanical image.
7 hours 6 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NEW ACQUISITION—In the early decades of the sixteenth century, Antwerp was a great center of commerce, finance, and luxury trade. The Flemish city attracted innovative painters like Quentin Massys, Jan Gossart, and Joos van Cleve working in a style that combined northern traditions with Italianate forms. Numerous other painters, whose work is only known under names of convenience, like the Master of the Lille Adoration, swelled the ranks of the Antwerp guild.
Saint Jerome in Penitence (by the Master of the Lille Adoration) is an ideal addition to our collection and can be seen alongside other exemplary paintings from Renaissance Antwerp—on view in Gallery 207.
1 day 6 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago This bronze by Daniel Chester French is a reduced version of the full-size statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., which French worked on with the architect Henry Bacon. The Lincoln Memorial has remained a cherished destination at the National Mall since its dedication in 1922.
Find French's historic depiction of Lincoln in our galleries of American art.