The Illusion of the American Frontier
From 03 November 2015 to 07 February 2016
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In the centre of the painting, a large basket full of fruit has been placed on a thick stone table top. In it, among the bunches of red, white and pink grapes, we can see some apples, plums, pears and peaches, as well as a corn-cob. The painter has used the plain and polished stone of the table to complete his composition. Thus, next to the basket, we find cranberries, blackberries, a slice of watermelon and a small punnet of strawberries. The still life ends on the left with an elegant wine glass with a long neck, full of sparkling champagne. Lacroix uses a flat, neutral background, with a soft gradation of colour. The lighting, coming from the right, gives a greyish tone to the background, while at the same time emphasising the waxy and mat surface of the fruit and the brightness of the colour range, with a prevalence of reds, purples and yellows. The painting is in an excellent state of conservation.
Paul Lacroix was a still-life painter. In his production his compositions with fruit take up a prominent position, although we also find, to a lesser extent, paintings with flowers and vegetables, like the one dated in 1865 entitled Asparagus, Tomatoes and Squash (Private Collection).
The still life analysed here, which has belonged to the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection since 1991, was acquired with the title given in this commentary, an allusion to the season when such fruit is harvested, to their quantity and quality.
The critics who have studied Paul Lacroix's works have pointed out the influence of Severin Roesen in his production. From Roesen, Lacroix borrowed the structure of his still lifes at different levels, and the presentation of some fruit. In this still life we can find references to Roesen, a painter of German origin, which Lacroix adapted to his more finished style. It is the case of the wicker basket, of the small punnet knocked over with its contents spilled on the table, of the bunches of grapes of different colours, of the fruit spilling over the edge of the table and falling on the foreground, of the vine leaves sprinkled with dew droplets, or of the champagne glass. Objects like the wicker basket or the glass, present in this composition, can also be found in Roesen's painting Still Life: Fruit and Wine (Private Collection). Another detail inspired on Roesen are the tendrils jutting out on the sides and the cut vine shoots arranged throughout the composition.
Some details of this painting also appear in another of Lacroix's works with a similar title, Nature's Bounty (New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Connecticut) in which Roesen's influence is most evident. In this composition we find again the same wicker fruit basket, the small strawberry punnet with its contents spilled on the table top, the champagne glass and the corn-cob.
The corn-cob, the only cereal in the composition, is a motif that does not belong to Roesen. Lacroix introduces it, apart from in the painting mentioned above and in the one being dealt with here, in another one entitled Flowers and Fruit (Private Collection). The corn-cob was also used, in a more explicit manner, by Charles Backofen in his painting Still Life with Fruit, dated in 1853. The choice of a cereal such as corn, proceeding from tropical America, might have been a clear allusion to the American continent, as it is a domestic produce.
Within Lacroix's catalogue, this fruit basket is one of his most restrained and elaborate works since, as Gerdts pointed out, his paintings gradually became more grandiose and ostentatious.
In this oil Lacroix draws carefully all its components: the surface of the vine leaves with their nerves and rough texture, the champagne bubbles or the translucent and mat skin of the grapes.
The fact that Lacroix, unlike his contemporaries, used a stone slab instead of marble or wood to place his still lifes has been linked to Chardin's kitchen scenes. This painting by Paul Lacroix is a representative example of mid-19th-century American still lifes.