Whether you’re ringing in the New Year with a prominent party, a delightful dinner, or champagne in quantities worthy of a Gatsby gathering, I wish you a Happy Near Year—as, in this case, does the food-related art of Picasso and Dalí. A selection of works by these two artists uses food to provide intellectually elevated irony and humor, grounded in both linguistics and visual presentation.
Hey—if nothing else, this post can provide you with enviable fodder for cocktail conversation on this New Year’s Eve.
Picasso linked food and linguistics in a playful, yet intellectual form of perceived realism. He repeatedly makes linguistic jokes through the purposeful and witty inclusion of textual ephemera in his collages. And yet, while he includes food advertisements and bottle labels in his pieces, he may be doing so without literal allusion to food, eating, drinking, or dining, but rather based on his personal adoration of typography.
For example, in café scenes, Picasso repeats names and labels of dinner wines, brandies, and ales by pasting actual labels or newspaper advertisements onto the canvas or by writing the labels in his own hand. Rather than evoking sensory or gustatory qualities, Picasso mixes fact and fiction in the presentation of the bottles, creating jokes based on language, words, and letters (Rosenblum 55). Rosenblum summarizes this process well, stating that these language-based bottles “provide a permutation of verbal meanings that creates the exact linguistic counterpart of the Cubist visual legerdemain that questions the identity of objects through fragmentation and elision” (57). Rosenblum cites Picasso’s limitless interest in the typeface used in advertising that often trumps the foods and vessels in his still lifes. For example, in Still Life with Grapes and Pears (1914), the eye is more drawn to the dissected letters, “jo-ur-nal,” than the fruits.
And in Restaurant Still Life (1912) Picasso places words related to dining throughout the work, creating a textual frame for the symbolic representations, rather than literal depictions, of foodstuffs and cutlery. Yet Rosenblum asks, “Are these Cubist still-life objects less real than the letters and numbers, which can suddenly seem so literal a record of prosaic visual truths?” (74-5). In such a way, Picasso encourages us to view text as image and image as text.
While Picasso linked food and linguistics in a playful, yet intellectual form of perceived realism, Dalí related foods and eating with the pursuit of knowledge, as well as shameful sex, through disturbing metaphors. From childhood, Dalí described his relationship with food as one characterized by “furtiveness, transgression, sensuality, and even sadism” (Irwin 104). Dalí manipulates qualities of foods in his paintings, such as softness or rottenness, rather than the foods themselves or their context. For example, rather than depicting Camembert cheese in The Persistence of Memory (1931), the physical qualities of cheese are personified and transformed into time itself, symbolized by the semi-sold state of the watches.
Notably, while the Impressionists depict commonplace objects, Picasso and Dalí also at times explore the commonplace, but as a function of the broader human experience. The Cubists fragment and deconstruct objects to view them differently and ponder their meaning in new ways. Dalí sees and uses foods as frightening symbols for the darkness of humanity.
Whether you see the dark or the light (or both!) in food, art, and life, may your New Year be bright.
- Irwin, Robert. “The Disgusting Dinners of Salvador Dali,” in Food in the Arts. Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1998. Edited by Harlan Walker. Blackawton, Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 1999: 103-11.
- Rosenblum, Robert. “Picasso and the Typography of Cubism.” In Picasso in Retrospect. Edited by John Golding and Sir Roland Penrose. New York: Praeger, 1973: 48-75; 266-68.