Food in the XIXe and XXe centuries

Food in the XIX<sup>e</sup> and XX<sup>e</sup> centuries

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  • Fat menu and cooking utensils.

    CHARDIN Jean Siméon (1699 - 1779)

  • Peasant scene: the husking of beans.

    HUMBERT DE MOLARD Louis Adolphe (1800 - 1874)

  • Still Life with Basket or The Kitchen Table.

    CEZANNE Paul (1839 - 1906)

  • Paris in the morning; the creamer.

    HUREL Suzanne (1876 - 1956)

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Title: Fat menu and cooking utensils.

Author : CHARDIN Jean Siméon (1699 - 1779)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 33 - Width 41

Technique and other indications: Oil on copper

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Gérard Blot / Hervé Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 96-012346 / INV3205

Fat menu and cooking utensils.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Gérard Blot / Hervé Lewandowski

To close

Title: Peasant scene: the husking of beans.

Author : HUMBERT DE MOLARD Louis Adolphe (1800 - 1874)

Creation date : 1852

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 22 - Width 18.2

Technique and other indications: Salted paper proof

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 00-003405 / PHO1980-249

Peasant scene: the husking of beans.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

To close

Title: Still Life with Basket or The Kitchen Table.

Author : CEZANNE Paul (1839 - 1906)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 65 - Width 81

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas Circa 1888-1890

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 93-001130-01 / RF2819

Still Life with Basket or The Kitchen Table.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Paris in the morning; the creamer.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Vizzavona

Publication date: November 2011

Historical context

Evolution of dietary practices in the 19th and 20th centuries

Associated with the demographic boom that began in the 18th century and continued into the following century, the tremendous development of transport linked to the industrial revolution led to profound changes in food consumption, even if habits often remain deeply rooted. While periodic famines disappeared in most European countries from the middle of the 19th century, populations continued to consume abundant cereals, potatoes and pulses throughout the 19th century and, for the last two, a part of the twentieth century, before favoring fresher products. Fruits and vegetables produced locally or imported thus saw their consumption quadruple between the end of the Ancien Régime and the middle of the 20th century, despite long periods of stagnation. Other foods gained wide popular success, sugar and sweet products in particular, traditionally reserved for the elites under the Ancien Régime, as well as meat and fish, the consumption of which steadily increased throughout the 19th century and the 19th century. Twentieth century. The iconography devoted to food offers good testimony to these developments.

Image Analysis

The image of food in art

Due to its ubiquity in everyday life, food has been a frequently featured subject in art for centuries. Still life, in particular, is a genre that enjoyed great vogue under the Ancien Régime under the influence of 17th-century Dutch masters.

Jean Siméon Chardin in the 18th century made a specialty of this type of representation, with his many still lifes devoted to game, fruit and the preparation of food. His painting entitled Fat menu and cooking utensils in 1731 shows, in the midst of culinary utensils, what could be on the menu of a high society table on good days: a piece of meat hanging from a hook, kidneys and bread. This menu differs from that of holy days when religion requires the consumption of lean products: fish, vegetables and eggs. In this cleverly arranged composition and treated in a realistic vein, the painter virtuously exploits the material effects of the foods represented in their smallest details and plays with the reflections of light on the metal, glass or enamel of utensils. The attention is immediately drawn to the meat which dominates the composition and whose bright red color stands out against the dull background in the background.

This tradition of still life has been perpetuated in contemporary art where, instead of reproducing reality optically, we focus on the representation of forms in space, the geometry of volumes and the relationship of colors and shapes. Cézanne, one of the fathers of Impressionism, was one of the first to explore this path with his many still lifes. Thus the one he painted towards the end of his life, in 1888-1890, under the title Still Life with a Basket or The Kitchen Table, in which the representation of fruits arranged in a wicker basket and on either side of it on a table serves as a pretext for research on the arrangement of geometric shapes in space and on the expression of their volumes. The colors are modulated by means of diaprures to obtain the best possible rendering of materials and volumes. In the background, a truncated perspective lets glimpse part of the kitchen and its furniture.

Photographers and painters were also interested in eating habits very early on. Thus Louis Adolphe Humbert de Molard from 1852 with this scene of rural life which represents the husking of beans during the season of their harvest, or the painter Suzanne Hurel who chose to represent in the following century a small typically Parisian food trade , that of the creamer. In the first image, a peasant couple is photographed on the doorstep of their house: the woman seated is shelling beans, while her husband watches her stand, leaning on the handle of one of her tools. In this dark-toned photograph, the coarse clothes of the two figures and their sun-tanned skin suggest the hardness of their labor and the harshness of their living conditions, while the objects arranged all around them, tools, ladder, etc. etc., tell us about peasant farming techniques, which had not yet fundamentally evolved in the middle of the 19th century.

The second representation, for its part, concerns a small profession that appeared in connection with the increase in the consumption of milk and dairy products: in a café, a dairy woman standing in front of a table serves milk in bowls for customers at the table. back, while a little girl seen from behind, a jug in her hand, comes to stock up on fresh milk from the dairy. In this scene of everyday life, the authors have captured the bond that has developed between the creamer and the little girl, at the same time that they highlight the conviviality that arises from the consumption of this drink in a public place.


Improving the quality of food

Very different in both their medium and their treatment, these four works nonetheless have a common documentary interest on the evolution of eating behaviors. Thus, Chardin's insistence on meat placed at the heart of the kitchen table in a bourgeois interior suggests that the consumption of this food, although traditional, was reserved for the well-to-do social classes and was not part of the ordinary peasant in the Age of Enlightenment, a situation that lasted for much of the 19th century, before changing thereafter. Cézanne’s fruit basket and Humbert de Molard’s husking of beans show that fresh fruits and vegetables were part of the daily diet, a share that will continue to increase in the 20th century. Finally, the dairy scene reflects the evolution of behavior towards milk, the nutritional virtues of which were discovered in the 19th century. It now enjoys a positive image and has been widely adopted by the general population, when it was once considered a food reserved for infants. Several factors are at the origin of this diversification of food consumption and of the increase in the quality of products, foremost among which comes the improvement in the standard of living, noticeable since the middle of the 19th century, the progress of agricultural techniques. and the transport revolution.

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Jean-Louis FLANDRIN and Massimo MONTANARI (dir.), Food history, Paris, Fayard, 1996. Jean-Robert PITTE, French gastronomy: history and geography of a passion, Paris, Fayard, 1991.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "Food in the XIXe and XXe centuries "

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