Friday, February 5, 2010

Picnics and Plenitude: Landscapes with Blankets and Baskets

William Blacklock, A Picnic Party, 1917

Faith Ringgold ( b. 1930, Harlem, NY) The Picnic at Giverny, 1991 [From the Series, "The French Collection"]

Above: Sandy Skoglund (b. 1946 Quincy, MASS) Picnic on Wine, 2006 (Cibochrome photo)

Romare Bearden (b. Charlotte, NC, 1911-1988) Shiloh Baptist Church Picnic, 1965-66

Artists at the Table: A Food Lover's Guide to the Arts"

The Picnic
As a subject in the visual arts, the picnic is one of the most diverse and arguably the largest of all outside eating depictions in the visual arts. This excludes cowboy roundups (Frederick Remington, 1907), wartime cuisine (Gilbert Rogers, 1916), and boating parties (August Renoir).

Obviously, breakfast, lunch, and dinner (indoors) reign supreme, especially in fiction.
One thinks of Thomas Mann''s Buddenbrooks, Pierre Bonnard's many dining rooms, Fairfield Porter's genteel New England breakfasts, and the first twenty pages of Peter Mayle's excellent Hotel Pastis (1993). One could not wish for a more sensually detailed meal than this, which begins with a bottle of champagne and goes on to a salade de tiede with foie gras, a leg of lamb with a Petrus, some crusted Brillat-Savarin and a "fierce cheddar." And then a Havana cigar. More than entertaining, but it is Ernest, the butler/chef, who is most delightful.

From painting and photography to quilting and performance art, even some sculpture there are more examples of the picnic than can be included in this blog entry. Think of it, if you will, as a large chapter of a very large book.

Here, as introduction, are four more images:

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sunday on the Banks of the Marne, 1938

Fernando Botero (b. 1932, Columbia) Picnic.
Botero made numerous paintings of picnics in the 1990s. This is a preliminary sketch.
Roland Petersen (Endelave, Denmark, 1926) American Picnic with 21 Figures, 1967

[See Paul Karlstrom, editor, Roland Petersen, Early Paintings 1958-1969, published by The Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, to coincide with with an exhibition of the same name, December 2002-January 2003]

"Zastolye" (Russians Eating) Exhibition (Moscow, February-March, 2003) photo of Soviet novelist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokov (1905-1984), author of Quiet Flows the Don, 1934, and The Don Flows to the Sea, 1940. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1965.

Sholokov is photographed while on a fishing expedition and is enjoying lunch with friends
(comrades). It looks like salted fish, bread and wine or vodka - a typical Russian snack.

Le Piq-nique:

Created by the French, made elegant and poetic by the English, and adopted first by eastern Americans as a folk custom and warm weather tradition, a picnic has always been a favorite with me.

An Up-Scale Picnic: The Henley Royal Regatta, Henley-0n-Thames.The annual inter-school rowing races in late June at Henley, England, some 30 miles west of London, draws hundreds of visitors and crew fans. They drink and laugh and tell stories and picnic lavishly. Below, two photos from the website.

Two crew race on the Thames River for a trophy cup.

My first picnic is documented in a family photo, circa spring 1932. My children enjoyed picnics often in our California backyard. Sandwiches prepared at home seem to be one of the favorite food items inmost countries. My daughter often prepares a truly elegant picnic for my birthday or on Father's Day. And the first date with my wife was an early December picnic on the banks of the Mississippi River. It was a test, of course!

The French Connections:

Carle van Loo (Nice, France, 1705-1765) Halt in the Hunt 1737 (Musee du Louvre,Paris)
Probably the true origins of the picnic is in the refreshments for an eighteenth century hunting party. Members of the hunt, all wealthy people, take a break and look forward to such toothsome delicacies as ham, rabbit, meat pies, wine, served from the picnic hampers on porcelain plates. The idea is to enjoy luxury, surrounded by nature.

James Tisot (Nantes, France, 1831-1913) Holiday [The Picnic), circa 1876

First usage is traced to the 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Francais de Menage. At first it denoted a group of people dining at a restaurant but bringing their own wine. One must remember that the term "restaurant," itself was barely in usage at the time

Then a picnic was a meal for which people contributed this or that. When it first appeared in English usage, it was associated with card playing, drinking and conversation.
Later it appeared as an outdoor meal, associated with an upper class ([fox] hunt
repas but never a peasant's lunch time break.

Jan Steen,The Picnic,1650
Steen painted food gatherings in homes and taverns making him popular and well-remembered. However, though labled "picnic," the scene seems to convey one
of the early meanings of the term.

Francois Lemoyen (1688-1737) Hunting Picnic [Piquenique durante a Cacade], 1723

Above: John George Brown (b. Durham,England, 1831- 1913), The Picnic Basket, 1873
Considered an American artist, he was known as a genre and landscape painter but best known for pictures of children in ordinary life situations.

Whether simple and spontaneous backyard peanut butter sandwiches, deviled eggs, milk and apples, or potato salad, tomatoes, hot ,dogs and Coca Cola or an elaborate spread of quiche, cold chicken, home-baked fruit pies, grapes, napkins and silverware, chilled wine and mineral water, it is our truly American outdoor folk custom.

Families, neighborhoods, churches, labor unions, schools, romantic couples and just groups of friends have long held picnics as a social event and a special memory. Quakers in the Hudson River Valley held annual picnics in Ulster County in the 1870s, drawing from other Quaker communities to a number of over seven thousand people.

What people today seem to agree on (and it seems supported by the images in my file) is that such events as BBQ or cookout, oyster roast or clambake, tail-gating or backpacking trip do NOT really qualify as a picnic.

Probably the best and clearest study of the American picnicking tradition is an essay by
Andrew Hubble,
"How [William] Wordsworth Invented Picnicking and Saved British
2006 [ Susquehanna University. Selinsgrove, PA]. It concludes with an extensive
bibliography on picnics. Hubble's amusing and informative essay addresses three areas:

1. Definitions of a Picnic
2. The Wordsworths Go Picnicking
3. Deciphering a Picnic

Picnics in Literature and Film:

The picnic appears sporadically in literature but is robust in the visual arts.

Constance Pendergast wrote a short story "Picnic", first published in Perspective: A Quarterly of Literature and the Arts (Winter 1952).Subsequently, it appeared in The Best Short Stories of 1953, Martha Foley, editor, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1953. The connotation of picnic is innocence and sociability. So when innocence is denied or betrayed, the picnic serves as a stage for duplicity and disappointment.

Some other examples include Georgina Battescombe (1905-2006)
wrote English Picnics, 1949, and resided at one time or another in such locales as Zanzibar and Windsor Castle and probably knew what she was talking about.

Picnic scenes appear in Jane Austin's
Emma (1815) and Dicken's Pickwick Papers (1836-37), and in the works of England's foremost Romantic poet, William Wordsworth's "The Excursion." He is clearly unhappy with the effects of industry.

But my favourite is in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926), the scene in which the narrator, Nick and his close friend, Bill, are trout fishing in the Pyrenees of northern Spain.

They plan to have for their picnic lunch cold chicken, hard boiled eggs and two bottles of white wine. Nick places the bottles in a cold stream. Later, after fishing and stuffing the freshly-caught trout into fern-lined creels to keep them moist, they open the wine. It goes like this:

I spread the lunch on a newspaper, and uncorked one of the bottles and leaned the other against a tree. Bill came up drying his hands, his bag plump with ferns.

"Let's see that bottle, "he said." He pulled the cork and tipped up the bottle and drank. "Whew! That makes my eyes ache."

"Let's try it" The wine was icy cold and tasted faintly rusty.

"That's not such filthy wine," Bill said.

"The cold helps it," I said.

William Inge (b. Independence, Kansas, 1913-1973) , novelist and playwrite won a Pulitzer prize for "Picnic" in 1953. Part of a book entitled, Four Plays and was published together by Random House n 1959. The book included Come Back Little Sheba ,Picnic, Bus Stop and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Inge was called "the Playwrite of the Midwest." The popular film version, "Picnic", starred William Holden and Kim Novak in 1955.

Another film was "Picnic at Hanging Rock" (1975) ,directed by Peter Weir. Taken from a 1967 novel by Joan Lindsey. It is the eerie story of a girl disappearing at a school picnic in Australia.

Oz Sheloch, an Israeli artist born West Jerusalem 1968, wrote Picnic Grounds: A Novel in Fragments, 2003. An Israeli professor takes his family on a picnic near Gvat Shaul and tells this story of the destruction and massacre of 100 men and women in Deir Yassin ,a Palestinian village once on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The term "Picnic" is used darkly and bitterly and with a portion of shame .

Documentary work is also important, as in At Home: Domestic Life in the Post-Centennial Era: 1876-1920, by George Talbot, The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976 In chapter V, "Heat and Ease,." we see a midsummer picnic at a table in a grape arbor, Burlington, WIS (p. 18 and Watermelon at a family picnic in the country (p. 19).

One other compelling source from a colleague:
Carter Walker Craigie's A Moveable Feast: The Picnic as a Folklife Custom in Chester, County, Pennsylvania, 1870-1925. Doctoral dissertation, 1976 University of Pennsylvania

Below are some art works that record the picnic tradition.

Early Picnics: A Type of Landscape

James Peale, Pleasure Party by a Mill, 1790
"Pleasure party is an old euphemism for a picnic, an outdoor meal. James Peale's family constitutes America's "First Family" of American artists. The canvas may be considered as a prime example of early American landscape.

Hendrikus van den Sande Bakhuyzen (Dutch, 1795-1860), A Picnic in Stoneleigh Park (Warwickshire, England)

Thomas Cole ( Lancashire, England, 1801-1848) The Picnic, 1846
Cole is among the best known of the artists identified with the Hudson River School. There are so many picnic scenes placed in this area that the event must be true or to be the appropriate thing to do here, at least from an Englishman's point of view..

Below: James McDougal Hart, Picnic On the Hudson, 1854

Above: Henry Nelson O'Neill (born in Russia, 1817-1880) A Picnic, 1857
One of the few early paintings to clearly show food at a picnic.
Above: Benjamin Champney (New Ipswich, NH, 1817-1907) Picnic on Artists Ledge, Overlooking Conway Meadows, NH, 1874.
He is most famously known as a painter of the New England White Mountain area. As in the work of Hudson River Valley artists (see below), the human forms are minimized so as to draw the viewer's eye to the landscape. The picnic food is virtually non-existent.

John Frederick Kensett (Cheshire, Conn, 1816-1872) Hudson River Scene, 1857
Kensett was a friend and colleague of Benjamin Champney. Typically, the figures depicted in the foreground can only be surmised as picnickers. The Hudson River Valley is often compared to the Rhine River in Europe.

Pierre Bonnard, Hamburg, Picnic on a River, 1908-12

John Sloan, The Picnic Grounds, 1907
Robert Walter Weir , Picnic Along the Hudson, 1881
August Renoir, The Grape Pickers at Lunch, 1888
Perhaps not a picnic, per se, but close.

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Hamburg Picnic , 1908-12

Robert Henri (born Robert Henry Coozad, Cincinnatti, Ohio, 1865-1929) Picnic at Meshoppen, PA, July 4, 1902

Luncheons on the Grass x 15:

Well over a dozen versions under this title have been created by various artists.
who appropriated the title and the setting and focused principally on the arranged figures.
This is especially obvious in Peter Reginato's sculpture, below

Edouard Manet, Dejeuner sur l'herbe, 1863

Claude Monet, Dejeuner sur l'herbe, 1865

Carlo Brancaccio (1861-1920) Luncheon on the Grass, n.d.
A departure from the Manet/Monet model.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Luncheon on the Grass, 1962
Picasso, Luncheon on the Grass (Dejeuner sur l'herbe) Two Picasso Versions (top: Ceramic earthen ware, 1964)

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) Dejeuner sur l'herbe, 1898 [Lithograph]

Frank Stella, Luncheon on the Grass,1958. Only a sense of the grass is conveyed; human figures have been eliminated, a modernist statement.

FaithRinggold Picnic on the Grass Alone, 1979. Feminist view or response to Manet's world

Peter Reginato (b. Dallas, TX, 1945)
Luncheon on the Grass , 1979 (painted steel sculpture)

Other Real American Picnickers:

Alex Katz, Picnic at the Beach, 1960

Below: Maurice Brazil Pendergast, Picnic, 1914-15
As with other members of "The Eight," he emphasized social issues
. He was admired by Europeans because his figures tended to be closer to abstraction.

Florine Stettheimer, Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918

Thomas Hart Benton , Down by the Riverside, 1969

Above: Roland Petersen Shaded Picnic, 1967
Below: Roland Petersen, Picnic Tables, 1968

France, 1937, near the town of Mougins on the Cote d'Azur:

The lovely Lee Miller (a lively and talented photographer and fashion model)) throws a picnic for a few friends, including Dadaist/Surrealist artist, Man Ray, and her husband, Lord Roland Penrose. It is available as a poster, 50 x 40 centimeters.

Born Elizabeth Miller in the Hudson River town of Poughkeepsie, NY (1907-1977), she moved in the high society of pre-World War II Europe and is strongly remembered as the war correspondent who photographed herself in Hitler's bathtub in 1945...

Lucien Labaudt, Picnic at Baker's Beach,San Francisco, 1936-37 [WPA mural]. While in San Francisco, visit the Beach Chalet and have lunch.

George Wesley Bellows (b. Columbus, Ohio, 1882-1925) The Picnic, 1924
Best known for urban images and such eventgs as "Stag at Sharkey's," 1909, Bellows was widely respected
for his landscapes and images of ordinry life in the Hudson Valley.

Leon Amyx (Visalia,CA, 1908-1995) Rock Fisherman and Picnic'er at Pebble Beach ,1949 Amyx was a respected and prolific water colorist,often called "the painter of the Salinas Valley."
He taught painting at several California colleges and universities from 1936.

The portion of the Pacific coast at Pebble Beach, California, is now very likely strewn with lost golf balls rather than fishing rods or picnic left-overs. Most picnickers now go to Asilomar Beach or Carmel beach for their get-togethers.

Gathie Falk (b. Manitoba, Canada 1928) Picnic with Fish and Ribbon 1977 [She also painted Picnic with Birthday Cake Blue Sky, 1976 and Picnic with Clock and Egg, 1976]. Falk views her picnic images as performance art.

Faith Ringgold (Harlem, NY, 1930) Church Picnic [Story Quilt] , 1990
Here is the picture of a picnic as powerful as any can be.

We see a Sunday school picnic of the Freedom Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA, as it may have looked in 1909 and as reported by one of the event'/ attenders. Thus, it is a medium of oral history as well as visual art..

Her copyrighted design consists of a painting (silkscreen on silk), a hand-written text, and quilting fabric which the artist combines to communicate parables and oral tales from the African American experience in the early 1900s.

Moreover, this quilt relates a detailed and complex narrative about a church congregation, its parishioners and a minister. The participants of the story and the quilt are involved in personal relations that, in some respects, remain sensitive and private To add to the problem, the quilt is owned by the High Museum, Atlanta, GA, and there have been controversy and legal action about the museum's right to use the image for purposes (partially copied posters and for television background display) other than public museum display.

Ringgold has been at the forefront of political activism, especially in the advances black and female artists struggling in the art world. She is so respected that she has had three retrospective exhibiionts: Rutgers University in 1973, 1984 at the Studio Museum in Harlem and at the College of Wooster in1985.

Photograph of Performance Art, [image unavailable]: The Theatrics of Posing

Nikhil Chopra (born 1974, India, Mumbai)

"Picnic" from his Raja III Series, “What will I do with all this land?” Performance art, 2005

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