Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Bread is perhaps the most frequently seen food in painting (old and new) and photography.
The still life painting has always been its usual venue, and the nature of still life has shifted from formal to casual and back again. At the same time, bread moves from background to foreground and back again.

The whole loaf, of course, is the standard. After all, what would half a loaf connote to the viewer? When America presented us with sliced bread ("That's the greatest thing since sliced bread!"), that food form achieved its own place in the art world, and was appropriate especially in the attitude of Pop artists.

Any thing as important and central to life as bread. soon rises to the top of the vocabulary chain. In traditional proverbs, we such expressions as "My daily bread" (soon metaphorical, meaning income, sustenance, etc.), "Not by bread alone" (biblical), and hundred of proverbs, expressed in the language those cultures that hold bread dear:
English: The bread never falls but
French: Nul pain sans peine (No bread without truth)
Italian: Il meglio che ci venga il foriao il medico (It's better to have the baker [come] than the doctor)
Waloon: The bread of a lover is sweeter than the cake of a mother
Russian: Without a bit of bread a palace is sad; with it a pine-tree is paradise

The still life painting, clearly secular and expanding, over time, past the austerity of vanitas images and into the worldliness of the laden table, did not develop strongly until the early seventeenth century and was most frequently found in Northern Europe among the Netherland artists as well as French and Spanish.

With roots in both Europe and England, the still life also appeared in colonial America, especially among the artist-members of the Peale family all of whom, however, preferred the more popular (and lucrative) portrait painting. Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) fathered 17 children four of which were painters. A Peale still life will portray lush fruit but BREAD,somehow less elegant, is hard to find.

Below: Margaretta Peale, Cake with Raisins, 1829
The Peales are considered the First Family of art in America and were staunch supporters of the idea of a museum. With little exception,their pictures are either portraits or still life with lush fruit. Fruit suggests the bounties of nature and the next big art movement in America is the wonders of the natural landscape, especially in the Hudson River Valley.

SIMPLE LOAVES, 19-20th century:

Natalia Goncharova's (Russia, 1881-1962) Bread Seller, 1912. She was a leader in the Russian avant-garde in the early 20th century, painted numerous scenes of women working and drew upon Russian folk arts for her style. Her life-long companion was Mikhail Larionov.
Above: Vincent Van Gogh, Girl Carrying Bread, 1882 [Also, Man Seated on Basket with Bread, 1882]

Walter Kuhn (Brooklyn, NY, 1877-1942, Bread and Knife, 1934 American Modernist

Wayne Thiebaud's (b. Mesa,Arizona, 1929) Bread, Butter Butter Knife, 1962 Ralf Kasper's Bread, 2006

Claes Oldenburg (b. Stockholm,Sweden, 1929) Knackebrot, 1966. Pop artist

Joel Goldblatt (b. 1926, NYC) Table Top [with loaf], 1970 Note the restrained, minimal use of table surface and background. . No clutter. Soft light. Clean lines.

A LITERARY MEMOIR: Bread and Wine:

When I was a senior at Rutgers University (class of 1954), I took two comparative literature courses, both of which I loved and whose ideas I retained, providing a firm base for later theoretical engagements in life, with or without cocktails and banter.

One course was taught Tuesday evenings from 7-10 PM by a distinguished scholar who lived down in Princeton, Francis Ferguson. He called his presentations The Idea of A Theater, the same title as his book (1949), which we used as a text. As Ferguson chain-smoked and lectured in a quiet voice, we unknowingly were receiving our introduction to what later came to be called "European structuralism."
Heady stuff, which is why, like a hearty, nourishing and elegant meal, his ideas and techniques of analysis stuck with me so long.

Walking out into the late Spring evening after class, I felt something totally new: excitement and accomplishment for having heard the ideas and seen the connections, and a sense of gratefulness for being included.

My other comp-lit course was taught two afternoons a week by a professor equally unforgettable for two peculiarities: first, his tall and angular build made him stride along in an unusual manner, almost sideways (he was rumored to have been a star runner in his younger days), and second, his fiery interest and very capable examination of Europe's most highly-rated fiction - Nobel prize winners or nominees, masters of the novel's form, like Balzac, and giants who gave us a sweeping social and historical landscape, like Tolstoy, or who created complex psychological elements in character development, like Dostoevsky. Obviously, his reading list changed constantly over a decade's span, and strangely, I cannot recall his name but "Crazy Legs" was his unfortunate campus name.
Ignazio Silone (b. Pescina dei Marci, Italy, 1900-died Geneva, Switzerland, 1978, author of BREAD AND WINE [1936-37], and one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party.

Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone by Stanislao Pugliese, 2009
One of the novels we discussed in class was Ignazio Silone's Bread and Wine, a block buster in the 1930s and for some time afterward. And just the other day, in our local library, I picked up a new biography of Silone (born Secondino Tranquilli, 1900-1978), Nobel nominee and author of many books (Bread and Wine, his provocative novel of pre-World War II Italian politics, reform and political disasters, was published in 1936/37 and revised in 1955). We read Silone for Crazy Leg's afternoon seminar in gloomy Winant's Hall, discovering for the first time the intrigues of church and state, peasant and priest, and the political currents leading to the founding of the Italian Communist Party. Again, heady stuff in 1953 with HUAC on every corner.

Central to the novel was the duality of the the materials of both the secular and the Christian world: bread and wine are tokens of the Christian mystery, the Eucharist, which is strong but not as effective as should be; bread and wine is what the peasants grow and rely upon for daily survival These metaphors are extended and blended many times at various levels. The dilemma: if only the Church would come out into the street and heed their needs; if only the Italian CP would stop bludgeoning minorities: intellectuals, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and peasants with questions.

NOTE:The most interesting art in Italy at this time was Futurism, which was unconcerned with still life painting and bread as a viable art subject.
Italian Futurists in the 1930s, distinctly different from leftist Socialist Realism, painted urban scenes and were consumed with the new technical culture of central Europe. They gained support from the growing Fascist Part under Benito Mussolini.

Poetry: "The Bread is Called Bread"

A contemporary of Silone was the renowned Sicilian painter Renato Guttuso (Palermo, 1911-1987) He was Silone's fellow writer, artist, promoter of Sicilian culture and left-wing thinker. In 1954 he published his book of poetry entitled, La pani si chiama pani ("The bread is called bread"). It was financed by the Italian Communist Party. One of his most famous paintings shows the market in the Sicilian town of Palermo and is called La Vicciria (1974).

The European Still Life Tradition:

See this helpful illustrated reference book: Ebert-Schifferer, Sybllee. Still LIfe: A History. Abrams, New York, 1999

Clara Peeters (Flemish, 1589-1667)) Still Life with Bread, Olives and Chicken, circa 1611. Probably the earliest female painter of renown in Europe.

Floris van Schooten (Haarlem, 1590-1665) Still Life with Smoking Paraphernalia, Oysters, Bread, and Red Herring, 1638

Jean-Baptise Simeon Chardin, Le Brioch, 1763.

Gerrit Dou (1613-1675) Woman Cutting Bread, 1665

Luiz Melendez (Naples, 1716-1780) Still Life with Figs and Bread, 1770

Paul Cezanne (Aix-en-Provence, 1839-1906) Still Life with Bread and Eggs, 1865

Dali's Fixation: Bread

Salvador Dali ( Figueres, Spain, 1904-1989) Basket of Bread, 1926

Salvador Dal , Anthropomorphic Bread,1932 [one of two versions in that year]

The sheathed loaf, like a tumescent penis with ink well suggests the forces at work in Dali's artistic life.

Pyotre Petrovich Konchalovsky (b.Ukraine, 1876-1956) Still Life with Teapot and Breakfast. 1946

Diego Rivera, Still Life with Bread, 1917

Diego Rivera, Still Life with Knife, 1915

The American Still Life:

Readers should visit the comprehensive overview of American still life painting at mikegrost.com/still.htm Bread is entirely missing from his listing. Cake alone represents the grains, as in Margaretta Peale, below.

Margaretta Angelica Peale (1795-1882) Cake with Raisins and Nuts, 1829
Thomas H.Hope, Still Life Breakfast, 1880-1890s
White on white, even the bread, but sliced bread!.

Karl (Otto Karl) Knath (Eau Claire, WIS, 1891-1971) Rye Bread, 1951. Priced at about $7,000 or more.
Born in the Midwest, he moved east to Provincetown, Mass and gained a national reputation for expressionism and then daring cubism with exciting colors. The objects here have artistic or compositional purpose but are not narrative. Coffee and rye bread are less companionable than corn beef or pickles with beer. And is that cheese in the foreground? Does it really matter?

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) Still Life with Bread and Fruit, 1919. This American modernist painter spent most of his life painting life on New England's coast.

Amy Weiskopf (b. 1957) Still Life Breakfst with Eggs, Bread and Moth, 2001

David Ligare (b. Oak Park,Illinois, 1945) Still Life with Bread and Pears, circa 2006.
Ligare is called a post-modern neo-classical realist. He is far from Hartley's earthy style, above, and more formal than Weiskopf. While Weiskopf suggests a human story; Ligare suggests architecture.

Social Issues: The Bread Line and the Right to Eat:

George Benjamin Luks (1867-1933) The Bread Line, 1905-1925
One of the few images that actually includes bread.

Morris Huberland (b. Warsaw, Poland, 1909-2003) Bread Line, 1930s (silver gel print)

Reginald Marsh, Bread Line, 1932

George Segal (b. New York, 1924-2000, New Brunswick, NJ) Depression Bread Line (bronze sculpture), 1996

Max Kalish (b. Poland 1891-1945), a widely recognized sculptor of working men, created his version of "Bread Line" in 1926, but its image is not available for display. Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915, Washington, DC -1968) Bread [The Right to Eat]n.d.
First printed in 1952, this image celebrates the introduction of agrarian reform in Mexico. Catlett was the grandchild of slaves and known primarily for her sculpture. She worked with the WPA in the 1930s and much of her work was influenced by Diego Rivera's mural paintings.

Slices in American Pop Art:

Christin Boggs, Still Life with Bread and American Cheese, 2008.

She is an alumna of George Mason Uiversity Art and Visual Technology Program. Pursssuing an MFA at the Rochester Institue of Technology. An accomplished photographer, she has documeted a wide variety of food-related subjects, including "A Camera in the Kitchen" (A Smithsonian Photography Initiative. August 2009) and "Sugar Bush Hollow" (gathering maple syrup).

Boggs does a very capable job of showing us the designer/illustrator's approach to sliced bread, using the compositional techniques of the still life painter.

Roy Lichtenstein, Mustard on White, 1963

Jasper Johns, Bread, 1969 (Technique: Cast lead, sheet lead with polystyrene) and paint relief.

Robert Watts, Bread Slice, 1970s [See his installation,Ten Loves, 1964, below]

Claes Oldenberg, Bread Slice in Sunlight #1, 1972

Wayne Thiebaud, Peanut Butter Sandwich, 2009

Julie Green, BLT, 1981
( Last Suppers Project
. See da Vinci Mode blog)

BREAD in FILMS and DRAMA [chronological listing]:

The vast number of references to bread here is quite amazing. Some treat bread as equivalent to all the basic requirements for life. For a few it is the goal of actually producing bread ( or some other crop) and thus succeeding in an adventure on the land. In any event, bread is absolutely pivotal (as in the French novel, Blue Boy, 1932)
Bread [Silent film] Directed by Ida Mae Park and produced by Univesal Pictures. It is an allegory involving the travels of a loaf of bread and the parallel story of the struggle of a young womam to make a go of things.
Vladimir Mikhailovich Kirshon's (1902-1938) drama, "Bread" portrays the struggles between collective farms and private farms in the early USSR.

Blue Boy, a story of a childhood in Provence (France) by Jean Giono (novel). The film version, "The Baker's Wife," 1938, was directed by Marcel Pagnol
1934 Our Daily Bread directed by Vidor King depicts a collective from a big city trying to make it on the land and doing their own work. Despite strife, an irrigation project pulls them together. Demonstrates a design for maximum efficiency capitalist exploitation and Upton Sinclair, all together 1943 Our Daily Bread Set during the Great Depression a couple decides leave the city and work a plot of land

1974 Bread and Tulips (Italian: Pane e tulipani, 2000) Romance. 2000 Bread and Roses,directed by Ken Loach about struggling and poorly-paid janitorial workers in LA and their right to unionize and improve conditions (under the leadership of the IWW) The title derives from the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachsetts and from a poem by James Openheim, 1911:

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient song of Bread;
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew--
Yes, bread we fight for--but we fight for Roses, too.
As we come marching, marching, we bring the Greater Days--
The rising of the women means the rising of the race--
No more the drudge and idler--ten that toil where one reposes--
But sharing of life's glories: Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses!

Bread and Salt, Jeanne Collachie ??

The Bread, My Sweet, Romance filmed on location in Pittsburgh, PA re-named Wedding for Bella for DAV release]

2002 Bread Alone, a novel by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Homeless woman with scant education but lots of grit and imagination struggles in bakery job and succeeds 2006 For Bread Alone, firm directed b Rashid Benhadji, based on the autobiographical novel by Mohammed Choukri, born in the Rif Mountains of Morroco, 1935-2000 [In Berber and Arabic languages]
For Bread Alone by Brandon Adams. A short student independent film about starvation and genocide in Ukraine brought on by farm collectiviz
ation and Stalin's NEP in the year a1928-32

2006 Our Daily Bread, a film directed by Nikolaus Goyrhalter. Austrian documentary
High food agriculture or agro-business
Bread Internalized:
Salvador Dali, Retrospective Bust of a Woman, 1933

A sculpture about which Dali was most loquacious.
"Bread has always been one of the oldest subjects of fetishism and obcession in my work The first and the one to which I have remained most faithful in my work."

David Wojnarowicz (Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954-1992) Untitled, 1988-89 [This bread image is a still shot from one of Wojnarowicz's many videos, "Fire in My Belly," 1987. He had a reputation in NYC as a political activist (especially in AIDS issues), performance artist and writer. He had an active sex life on the streets as a teenager and thought of himself as a self-taught artist living and working largely without the benefits of elite gallery and museum (i.e. establishment) support.
Below: A famous portrait of David Wojnarovicz,

Vladimir Kozhuhar, Bread and Salt (ArtOdessa.com) - Dealers in fine arts from Russia and Ukraine)
The sign of welcome, bread and salt, covered by a cloth as always, shoved in your face?

The Wonder Bread Incentive:
Why so many artists have selected Wonder Bread as a subject (or,we might say target) has to do with American popular culture. Still on the shelf of many markets, in plane sight, there for all to see and buy! Wonder Bread, for all its soft, white, spongy nothing-ness, continues to thrive in its red, white and blue polka dot package despite commentary by the likes of Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986) and leading American Pop artists, such as Donald Moffett (b. 1955) and Ed Ruscha (1962 pencil sketch, below, below)
Corita Kent (aka Sister Corita until 1968, 1918-1986) enriched bread, 1965 [serigraph]. As a nun, Kent ran the art department at the Emaculate Heart of Mary College in LA from 1936-86, whereupon she withdrew from here order and moved to Boston to continue her art As a result of enriched bread (and other images), she became a widely recognized as a strong force in the the struggles for social justice. Using lower case letters to announce this product, first advertised in Indianapolis, 1921

Below: Eugene Richards (b .Dorchester, Masschusetts ) Wonder Bread 1977-97 ([photo]

Street photography, imagesof poverety and growth, he captures typical body language of a boy imitating a basketball toss but he is not on a "court" but a public street and the store windows are bombarding him with lies about enriched bread."

Bread Wrappers:
Rachel Perry Welty , Loaves, 2004 [208,896 bread wrappers] She is a boston-based conceptual artist and has specialized in making art out of containers and wrappers. Below is (a) bread wrappers and (b) bread tags. 2004. She comments: "I am obsessed with mapping the remnants of my daily rituals extends to fruit stickers and bread tags, twisties and take-out containers..." She is not alone.
Daily Bread, 2004 [tags]


Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) The Blessing of the Bread, 1889 Kandinsky had several carers, as a cartographeur he spent time among the Chukchee people of Siberia whose ethnographic shamanic arts influenced his later abstract paintings of circles. This painting preceds that time and shows his Expressionist style. In the Russian Orthodox church, bread is blessed especially at Easter, the breaking of the Lenten. fast. This ritual is probably the oldest and most significant Russian liturgical custom, interweavng folk belief with canon.
Eric Enstorm, Grace,1918 In 1918, in the north-central Minnesota town of Bovey, on the edge of the Iron Range, Enstorm took a photo of Charles Wilden, sitting at a small table in prayer. To Enstorm's sensibilities and many others afterward, the photo conveyed thankfulness in humble circumstances. Very popular with the local Lutherans.

The Bakery, the Home and Other Secular Venues:
Pavel Fedotov (Moscow, 1815-1852) The Poor Aristocrat's Breakfast, 1849

Alphonse Levy (1843-1918) Baking Matzah, circa 1900-1902. Levy worked as a comic illustrator and satirical cartoonist in Paris and later documented Jewish traditional life in Alsace with his drawings. Mikhail Larionov,The Baker, 1909 [See Goncharova, above]

Diego Rivera, Our Bread, 1928 [Fresco] This scene is neither religious nor totally secular. The family sits in a formal order, father wears a (Russian) red star, the serving person wears liturgical attire which may be a serape, and they are watched over by peasants and a person who is perhaps a commissar.

Bernard Brussel-Smith (Greenwich Village, NY.1914--1989) Breaking Bread, 1942 [wood engraving] A couple at home, winter, meager resources, break bread.The coffee pot is kept warm on the radiator. As America's foremost wood engraver, he captured the lives of urban working class people in the 1940-50s.
Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) Zito Bakery, 259 Bleeker Street NYC, 1937 [from her Changing New York photo documentry project for the WPA arts program] She recorded numerous food-related buildings and occupations in the NYC area.
The Salvador Dali Theatre Musee in Figueres, Spain, is festooned with eggs and bread loaves in artist's surrealist interpretation of the genesis of art.
Installations and Happenings:

Wolf Vostell (b. Leverkusen,Germany - 1998) Untitled [stacked loaves of French bread]
Vostele created his first happening in Paris, 1958, and was a leader in various avant garde movements including NO!art and FLUXUS.

A "happening" is an event, art brought to that point of not "what is art" but WHEN is art? Where viewer,participant and process meet as one. Focus is not on the material (bread) but on the the affective force of movement toward understanding.

Robert Watts, Ten Loaves, circa 1970s

"Bread and Salt, Lithuania," exhibited at Contemporary Art Center, Vilnius, Lithuania.1994
Jurga Barilaite (b.1942,Vilnius) a group exhibition based on the traditional Slavic welcoming gift of bread and salt, life's basics.


Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, 1862 Vladimir Dmitrievich Dudinstev, Not By Bread Alone [Ni Khlebom Edinyim], 1956
Judith Ryan Hendricks,
Bread Alone, 2002

Bread as an Artistic Medium:

Urs Fischer, House of Bread, 2004
Urs Fischer, Portable Bread, 1969
Nayland Blake, (b. New York, 1960 -) Ginger Bread House, Feeder 2, 1998


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