Famous paintings of meals in art history

It's November, and Thanksgiving is coming up soon, so it's time to plan a big Thanksgiving dinner. When Artsology thinks about Thanksgiving in relation to art, one of the first paintings that comes to mind is "Freedom from Want" by Norman Rockwell, pictured below. This painting was one of four that Rockwell made as part of his "Four Freedoms" series, which was inspired by a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Scroll down for more ...

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This painting shows a very happy family settling in for a turkey dinner, and the cheerful mood and bountiful meal before them shows directly that they are not "wanting" for anything, and therefore have "Freedom from want." What we find interesting about this painting is that Rockwell composed it in a way to make the viewer feel as if they were included in this moment, made so especially by the fact that the man at the bottom right is looking up, making eye contact with whomever might be standing in this room with this vantage point. With this technique, Rockwell is bringing the viewer in to make them feel as if they included in this freedom from want.

Norman Rockwell: Freedom from Want

Let's take a look at some other famous paintings that depict meals, starting with one of the most well-known images ever made, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, below left. This painting is actually a huge mural, approximately 15 x 29 feet, painted directly on the wall at the Convent of Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. It took Leonardo three years to make this mural!

Below right we have Luncheon of the Boating Party painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1880-81. While no where near the size of da Vinci's Last Supper, it was still one of Renoir's largest paintings, measuring 51 by 68 inches. An interesting note is that this whole scene was actually staged by Renoir; he invited a number of his good friends to this restaurant, named "Maison Fournaise," and set up the scene, painting each of his friends one by one.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, and Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir

Renoir's painting is bright and cheerful, but Pablo Picasso's view of dining during his Blue Period was a bit more bleak. Below left we have The Blindman's Meal, painted by Picasso in 1903. This lonely blind man is sitting alone with his sparse meal of bread and water. One could joke that there must only be two things on the menu in Picasso's "blue restaurant," as the man below right has the same sparse meal of bread and water, including the same pitcher and an empty plate. This painting is titled Ascetic, and was also painted by Picasso in 1903.

Two Blue Period paintings by Picasso: Blindman's Meal and The Ascetic, both from 1903

Now let's take a look at some early modern photography, capturing actual diners having their meals in two different locations. On the left we have Charles C. Ebbet's photograph of construction workers during the building of Rockefeller Center in New York, taking their lunch break out on a steel beam. It's an amazing moment captured on film, to think that these guys could be so casually enjoying their lunch, chatting with each other, reading the newspaper, and relaxing in such a death-defying location! On the right we have Henri Cartier-Bresson's photograph titled On the Banks of the Marne from 1938. This is a much more conventional dining experience, two French couples having a picnic near the river.

Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam), photograph by Charles C. Ebbets

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

Artsology hopes that you all have a great Thanksgiving, including a sumptous meal ... maybe you can make a picture or take a photograph of your meal and send it to Artsology to post on the site!

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