The depictions of fruit in art history date back 3000 years to Ancient Egypt and always have interested artists of all genres. Paintings of food, including fruit, have been found in most Egyptian tombs. The common belief in Ancient Egypt was that the artistic representations would become tangible in the afterlife. The deceased could then feast on the food.
Up to today, different fruits are popular subjects for paintings. When the fruit is the main subject of the painting, such a painting is called a still life. Typically, still, life is an artwork depicting natural objects like fruit, food, flowers, dead animals, plants, and rocks, or artificial objects such as drinking glasses, books, jewelry, and pipes.
The French painter Paul Gauguin used fruit in many of his paintings. Sometimes he created still lifes depicting fruit, and other times he also included fruit in his landscapes and portrait paintings. We’ll briefly have a look at the painter Paul Gauguin, discuss the familiar symbolism of fruits when used in paintings, and then talk about some of Paul Gauguin’s paintings where fruit plays a role.
The French painter Paul Gauguin’s full name was Eugène-Henri-Paul Gauguin. He was born in Paris in the year 1848, and after a self-imposed exile, he died in French Polynesia in 1903.
His art has been categorized as Post-Impressionist, Synthetist, and Symbolist. Nowadays, he is seen as a key figure in the Symbolist movement. The painter Paul Gauguin is now rightfully recognized for the great influence he has had on artists of his time and later. He used fruit in many of his paintings, and we’ll discuss some of his paintings later in this article.
What do Fruits Represent or Symbolize in Paintings in General?
According to custom, fruits serve as a representation of the transient nature of our existence. Fresh and ripe fruit is seen as the symbol of vitality, abundance, youth, bounty, and fertility.
On the other hand, decayed fruit serves as a reminder of our own mortality. To a certain extent, a painter not only creates a beautiful picture but conveys a message to the viewer by the type of fruit depicted. In some paintings, the painters also use fruit to symbolize earthly pleasures, overindulgence, and temptation.
One of Paul Gauguin’s Famous Drawings and Paintings, Stolen
When you learn about Paul Gauguin as an artist, you’ll discover many of his artworks depict fruit in some or another way. “Fruits on a Table,” also known as “Still Life with Apples and Grapes” (“Nature Morte à la Comtesse de N”), is an example. The painting depicts two bowls of brightly colored apples and grapes. The bowl is on a fringed white linen cloth on a wooden table. In the background, a small dog is sleeping on the floor.
But what makes this painting an exciting work, apart from the greatness of the painting itself, is the story behind its disappearance and recovery. In 1970, “Fruits on a Table” and another painting by another artist were stolen from their owner in London. The thieves boarded a train and made their way across France, and exited the train in Turin, Italy. But they left the two paintings on board.
Train workers found the paintings and took them to the lost and found storage area. The paintings were sold at a railway auction in Turin five years later. A Fiat factory worker bought them for about $25. Forty years later, the factory worker’s son saw pictures of the paintings in an art book. They contacted the police, who took possession of both paintings.
Italian law states that if there are no claimants to a lost or stolen item, a court can simply award the item to the last person to possess it. Unfortunately, the original owners had no children, and nobody claimed the works. So in 2014, the court granted the paintings to the retired factory worker. In 2014, “Fruits on a Table” was valued between $10 million and $30 million.
More Still Lifes by Paul Gauguin with Fruit as Subject
Gauguin’s “Still life with Three Puppies” was inspired by children’s books and Japanese print. He created this still life while he lived among a group of experimental artists in Brittany. Gauguin created three different sections on the canvass: the three dogs, the three goblets, and the three fruits. He painted the puppies in blue, and he depicted them drinking water from what might be a cooking pan. Finally, he placed the bowl of fruit in the lower-right corner. With this painting, Paul Gauguin played with composition, causing the viewer’s sense of perspective somewhat distorted.
As you check painter Paul Gauguin’s artworks, you will find “Still Life with Apples, a Pear, and a Ceramic Portrait Jug” as one of his famous still lifes. In this painting, Gauguin used lively strokes of color. Turquoise, green, and orange are mingled together to create a summer display. He placed the white apple bowl on a wooden table to counter the intensity of the fruits. A green pear stands alone at the side. The portrait of an anonymous figure in this still life has art lovers and scholars still debating who that might be.
Gauguin’s “Still life with Tahitian Oranges” is regarded by art lovers as his most exotic still life. The composition in the painting is interesting. The bowl with oranges stacked on top of each other dominates the center of the composition. A couple of leaves hang over the bowl, and next to it, there are three smaller red fruits. Gauguin experimented with colors, textures, and techniques in this artwork. The designs on the wooden table are examples of his experiments.
The French artist Paul Cezanne was one of Gauguin’s biggest inspirations. One of Gauguin’s prized possessions was a Cezanne still life, “Still Life with Fruit Dish.” In “Still Life with Teapot and Fruit,” Gauguin tried to emulate his idol’s painting. But he changed some details. He replaced the original apples in Cézanne’s still life with mangoes and the French floral wallpaper design with Tahitian-style printed cloth.
It can be an exciting subject for art scholars to follow the painter Paul Gauguin’s professional career by looking at all his paintings that have fruit-related subjects. His artistic development can be seen in the fruit still lifes.