Exploring the Parallel and Connected World of Food and Art

By Timi Ayeni

We may not think of art and food as the best of friends but they have been connected since Roman times. Walk into many a gallery filled with classical art and see numerous paintings of grapes, apples and even wheat. Many pictures came to symbolise deeper meanings more as a commentary on wealth for example. But the connection is still just as prevalent today even if it takes a slightly different course. Find out more in Exploring the Parallel and Connected World of Food and Art.

 We have seen foods inside of paintings, over many different periods of the arts from romantic overflowing bowls of luscious fruit to surreal versions we are a little confused by. But did you know that depicting food dates back to the Roman period in 509 BCE.

Food, especially wheat and grape was frequently featured on Roman frescoes, particularly those that depicted Bacchus, the God of wine, and the images dedicated to Ceres, the goddess of grain. A celebration of the Gods that bought food for the community

Further on in history painting food and wealth was common as a celebration often seen in spiritual paintings. Even artists specialized in non-religious, secular paintings, frequently depicted food, usually scattered on the floor after banquets, simultaneously emphasizing the wealth around them on top of their own painting skills.

However, during the Renaissance from 1590, Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted artistic puzzle-like portraits of famous people in which the facial features of the person were composed of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

With the birth of modern art, food didn’t get ignored if anything it became a symbol of the modern world and the ‘great American Dream’. For example, Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann’s painting Still Life #35, 1963 contains items as if taken straight from a supermarket shopping cart, and of course Andy Warhol made tins of soup as famous as any Hollywood celebrity

The plethora of food paintings across the history of art is unusual even in some early paintings food is teated it seems with humour.

Mound of Butter by Antoine Vollon

The still-life painting of a mound of butter was made by the 19th-century French realist painter Antoine Vollon between 1875 and 1885. 

The painting is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., with the New York Times calling it one of “Washington’s Crown Jewels”.

Antoine Vollon Mound of Butter National Gallery of Art Washington, D. C.online collection.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh 

This oil painting was made in 1885 by Vincent Van Gogh and it is one of his greatest masterpieces of all time. 

The original sketch of this painting is at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, and he made lithographs of the image, which are held in collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 

The Potato Eaters (De Aardappeleters) (1885). Oil on canvas, 82 × 114 cm (32.3 × 44.9 in). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vertumnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo 

It is an oil painting painted by the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo in 1591 that consists of multiple fruits, vegetables and flowers that come together to create a portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. 

Although, Arcimboldo’s colleagues commented that Vertumnus was scherzo, or humorous, there were intentional political meanings behind the piece, particularly regarding the choice of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. 

Arcimboldo’s choice to include these items was also an intentional reference to the Roman god, Vertumnus.

Vertumnus Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1591

Freedom of Want by Norman Rockwell 

This painting was created in 1942 by Norman Rockwell and was published in 1943 in an issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

However, it was also known as ‘The Thanksgiving Picture’ or ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ which is the third of the Four Freedoms series as these works were inspired by U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address, known as Four Freedoms. 

Freedom From Want Norman Rockwell The  National Archives and Records Administration,


The painting was made by Edward Hopper in 1942 which shows portrays four people in a downtown diner late at night as viewed through the diner’s large glass window as the light coming from the diner illuminates a darkened and deserted urban streetscape.

It has been described as Hopper’s best-known work and is one of the most recognizable paintings in American art within months of its completion, it was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,000.

Nighthawks By Edward Hopper

Now that we have explored these paintings how about taking the experience in top the 3d world? The Southbank Centre is hosting The Artist Food Stall, a new artist-led residency showcasing food and drinks that playfully explores the unique links between Art and the Kitchen.

From the 7th of July to the 27th of August it hosts seven leading creatives whose artistic work explores cuisine and eating experiences. 

4COSE 7 – 9 July – It was created by artists Cullinan Richards and Andrea Sassi. Meaning “4 Things”, is a grocery shop born from a common passion for Italian gastronomy from the duo. Based on the idea that four ingredients are enough to make a delicious dish, 4COSE will sell four key ingredients at the market, namely Parmigiano Reggiano, pasta Setaro, olive oil and salami.

The Mobile Apothecary 14 – 16 July – It is a collaboration between Phytology (phytology.org.uk), Rasheeqa Ahmad(hedgeherbs.org.uk), and a growing network of talented volunteers spanning the areas of arts, herbalism, and horticulture/growing.

yeast.computer 21 – 23 July – It is an Amsterdam based design studio creating experiences for the senses with smell,
taste, soil and microbes. Their work is about communicating the importance of the invisible. For the market, Yeast.Computer will present Sensing CO2, an edition of seven carbonated lemonades to taste your e-mail inbox emissions, aiming to make tangible the changing levels of CO2 measurement.

Company Drinks – 28 – 30 July – It was set up by east London based artist Kathrin Böhm as a community space and social enterprise based in Barking and Dagenham which makes drinks with and for each other.

It started out in 2014 to bring people back together through the act of picking and reconnecting with local green spaces and nearby countryside.

It started as an art commission and was registered as a Community Interest Company in 2015. They see themselves as part of a larger community-focused ecosystem of care that strives for an equal, just and non discriminatory world.

Toadlicker 11- 13 August – Members of the public will be able to experience artist David Shrigley’s adding a beer to his portfolio. Teaming up with Hand Brew Co on the UK South Coast, he delivers a perfect Grapefruit Pale Ale called Toadlicker, with 25% of profits going to the Fitzherbert Community Hub.

CONGEE 18 – 20 August – An installation with Hong Kong-style congee from artist Alastair Kwan and F.A.T Studio within a space encouraging members of the public to freely converse with each other whilst eating.

Annalee Levin 25 – 27 August – Annalee Levin is a visual artist, trained chef, and co-owner of a family-run pub in Somerset. Her most recent body of work employs captured carbon as an art medium, investigating the carbon cycle and how recycled carbon can be positively incorporated into local circular economies.

However, she plans to work with her family to decarbonise the business and incorporate zero waste practices into their bar and kitchen, creating the first carbon-neutral pub. For the market, Levin will present carbon neutral cocktails.

However, the residency creates a space for the public to engage in discussion around art, produce and sustainability both with the artists and those around them with over 30 regular traders, plus guest traders every week, the market is one of London’s best-loved foodies destinations, with over 15 types of cuisine from across the world including Ethiopian, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, and Italian. 

For more information about the event, click here

Art is an expressive and creative form in many ways as the food inside of paintings can bring in much joy and savour in feasting into the world of culinary and art. 

If you have enjoyed reading Exploring the Parallel and Connected World of Food and Art, why not read Unveiling the hidden gems of films.

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