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Feast Your Eyes: Fruit Forever Fresh in Still Life

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The following is a guest post by Martha H. Kennedy, Curator of Popular & Applied Graphic Arts, Prints and Photographs Division.

The vibrant colors and massive watermelon in this hand-colored lithograph first caught my eye. Tucked around, beside, and below the melon are rosy apples, golden pears, peaches, plums, blackberries, a cantaloupe, and dark and light grapes, that collectively form a luscious, full-to-the-frame still life.05779 amer fruit piece

P&P holds a larger variation dated 1859 with the same title and nearly identical composition that also includes a pineapple as well as another partly hidden cantaloupe. Though not hand-colored, this lithograph is enhanced by yellow-beige from an additional tint stone used in its production. Unknown artists created these prints for Currier & Ives, one of the leading publishers of popular prints that adorned many American homes in the second half of the nineteenth century.

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The same selection of fruits is depicted in a closely similar style in Garden Orchard and Vine (1867) by Fanny Palmer (Flora Frances Bond Palmer, 1812-1876), one of Currier & Ives’s most prolific, talented artists. Her composition varies a little from the other two, but note the detailed drawing of leaves also used as framing elements and the twining tendrils seen in all three. Each print also includes an insect, possibly symbolic of decay as part of the cycle of life.

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Currier & Ives published many fruit and other still life subjects to satisfy their middle class clientele’s taste for decorative prints inspired by European and American still life paintings. To me, these prints celebrate the abundant variety of produce available in America—and keep the fruit looking fresh and tempting forever!

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Comments (2)

  1. It is peculiar how a little information can go a long way. This brief account of a print I would just as soon pass upon if I saw it in a garage sale, now will arrest me to stop dwell and recall the times I might have seem like prints in the homes of folks more “well off” than my family and friends.

  2. The green fruit in the center bottom of the first print — what is it? I’m guessing a quince since quince was a popular fruit back then.

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