Discomfort Food

The Culinary Imagination in Late Nineteenth-Century French Art

2021
Author:

Marni Reva Kessler

Discomfort Food

An intricate and provocative journey through nineteenth-century depictions of food and the often uncomfortable feelings they evoke


In Discomfort Food, scholar Marni Reva Kessler trains her inquisitive eye on the depictions of food in nineteenth-century French art. Arguing that disjointed senses of anxiety, nostalgia, and melancholy underlie the superficial abundance in works by Manet, Degas, and others, Kessler shows how, in their images, food presented a spectrum of pleasure and unease associated with modern life.


At a time when chefs are celebrities and beautifully illustrated cookbooks, blogs, and Instagram posts make our mouths water, scholar Marni Reva Kessler trains her inquisitive eye on the depictions of food in nineteenth-century French art. Arguing that disjointed senses of anxiety, nostalgia, and melancholy underlie the superficial abundance in works by Manet, Degas, and others, Kessler shows how, in their images, food presented a spectrum of pleasure and unease associated with modern life.

Utilizing close analysis and deep archival research, Kessler discovers the complex narratives behind such beloved works as Manet’s Fish (Still Life) and Antoine Vollon’s Internet-famous Mound of Butter. Kessler brings to these works an expansive historical review, creating interpretations rich in nuance and theoretical implications. She also transforms the traditional paradigm for study of images of edible subjects, showing that simple categorization as still life is not sufficient.

Discomfort Food marks an important contribution to conversations about a fundamental theme that unites us as humans: food. Suggestive and accessible, it reveals the very personal, often uncomfortable feelings hiding within the relationship between ourselves and the representations of what we eat.

Discomfort Food

Marni Reva Kessler is professor of art history in the Kress Foundation Department of Art History at the University of Kansas. She is author of Sheer Presence: The Veil in Manet’s Paris (Minnesota, 2006).


Discomfort Food

Contents


List of Illustrations


Beginnings


1. Édouard Manet’s Fish (Still Life) and the Melancholy of the Mullet


2. Clarifying and Compounding Antoine Vollon’s Mound of Butter


3. Gustave Caillebotte’s Fruit Displayed on a Stand and the Ghost of the Lost City


4. Edgar Degas’s Beef and the Double Life of Édouard Manet’s Ham


“Ending with the Beginning”


Acknowledgments


Notes


Bibliography


Index