Golden Globes - Oranges in Art / by Jeannine Cook

Looking at the glowing oranges hanging in such bounty from the trees in the garden, I find myself marvelling in the play of light on their rough skins and the intensity of the colours.  The lustrous dark green leaves are the perfect foil for the fruit, the brilliant Mediterranean blue sky above the ultimate enhancement.  The temptation to paint these oranges is constant, but I have learned that watercolours are not the best medium to convey the intensity of these glorious winter fruits.

I began thinking of the paintings I have seen over the years of oranges; I realise that of course, it is mostly artists who have lived in the Mediterranean area - or at least visited - that have used oranges in their paintings. One of the earliest artists that comes to mind who used oranges in a wonderful still life painting was Spanish Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)I was spellbound, like so many others, when I saw this painting at the Norton Simon. It glows - and the oranges could almost be smelled in their tangy citrus perfume.

Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, 1633, Zurbaran, (Image courtesy of the Norton Simon Museum)

One of Zurbaran's heirs in the art of still life painting in Spain is Luis Melendez, the 18th century artist who  excelled in this art form, especially when he specialised more and more in still life during the last twenty years of his life. His intensity of scrutiny of the items he painted is astonishing.  The still life works in the Prado, for example, are a celebration of the simple flavours of life.

   Still Life with Oranges, Watermelon and Box of Sweetmeats, Luis Melendez, c. 1760  (Image courtesy of the Prado Museum)
Still Life with Oranges and Walnuts, 1772, Luis Melendez, (Image courtesy of National Gallery, London)

Another Spanish artist that comes to mind celebrates oranges in a different fashion - oranges growing in orchards or being sold:  Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, Valencia-born artist of light and Spanish life, straddled the 19th and 20th century, and recorded history, landscapes, portraits in vivid, lyrical fashion.

The Orange Seller,  1891, Joaquin Sorolla, Private Collection
Orange Trees on the Road to Seville, 1903,  Joaquin Sorolla, Private Collection

Meanwhile, in France, oranges were calling in their brilliance too.  Inevitably, Vincent Van Gogh would respond to their luminous voice when he reached the south of France.  They were an ideal ingredient for his still life works.

Still Life with Basket and Six Oranges, Vincent Van Gogh,  Arles, 1888, Private Collection
Still Life with Oranges,, Lemons and Blue Gloves, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, (Image courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon)

Paul Cezanne used them too in some of his still life paintings. One of the most famous is a complex feat of celebrating fruits, including the oranges.

Apples and Oranges, Paul Cezanne, c. 1899, (Image courtesy of Musee d'Orsay)
Still Life with Milk Jug and Fruit, c. 1900, Paul Cezanne, (Image courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington)

At almost the same time, Henri Matisse was also experimenting with still life paintings that included oranges.  It was a theme to which he returned...no one can resist these golden orbs!

Still Life with Oranges II,  Henri Matisse, c. 1899, (image courtesy of  Kemperer Art Museum)

Basket with Oranges, 1913, Henri Matisse, (Image courtesy of the Louvre, Paris)
Every time I walk in the garden and see the oranges, I understand why these artists used them in their brilliant still life studies.