Farm to Table: Art, Food, and Identity in the Age of Impressionism explores the intersections of art, gastronomy, and national identity in fin-de-siècle France. The exhibition showcases the work of artists such as Claude Monet, Eva Gonzalès, Victor Gilbert, Paul Gauguin, and Jules Dalou who examined the nation’s unique relationship with food. The bounty of France’s agriculture and the skill of its chefs had long helped to define its strength and position on the international stage. This self-image as the world’s culinary capital became all the more important in the late nineteenth century as the country grappled with war, political instability, imperialism, and industrialization. In this climate, France’s culinary traditions signaled notions of its refinement, fortitude, and ingenuity while they also exposed fractures that destabilized national identity. From cultivation to consumption, food was central to notions of glory but also to those of collective pain.
The transformation of the culinary world was a natural theme for artists committed to depicting daily circumstances. Food was the most quotidian of subjects yet also one uniquely suited to considering the state of the nation. Featuring approximately seventy works of art, Farm to Table showcases representations of sumptuous ingredients and severe privation, bountiful meals and agrarian crises. The works highlight the possibilities and precariousness of France’s colonial and industrial projects; the evolving norms of gender and class; the tenuous relationship between Paris and the provinces; and shifting understandings of science and the environment. Depictions of markets and gardens, farmers, chefs, and restaurants expressed cultural anxieties and aspirations. Beginning with the 1870 Prussian siege of Paris (and the resultant food crisis) and continuing through the 1890s, the exhibition spans the age of Impressionism and provides a new way to consider the era’s depictions of modern life at the intersection of art, food, and social politics.
Farm to Table: Art, Food, and Identity in the Age of Impressionism is co-organized by the American Federation of Arts and Chrysler Museum of Art. The exhibition is generously supported by Monique Schoen Warshaw. Additional support has been provided by Betsy S. Barbanell and the Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation.