Food culture: History’s making us hungry at the Norton Simon


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‘Paintings of food shine out at me with their voluptuous colors and shapes whether I am hungry or not,’ says Eleanor Congdon. As educator for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Congdon creates tours of interest for museum guests including a food paintings tour titled “Dinner at the Norton Simon: Food in Paintings” that was featured in June.

Throughout the museum’s galleries are a range of still life and genre paintings depicting food from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The Chardins, Courbets and Manets, among others highlighted in the tour, reveal a subject eternally relatable for its viewers. Whether depicted as necessity or extravagance, with symbolism or none at all, food is visually stimulating enough to provoke its viewer to go beyond the surface and imagine the possibilities of its textures, aromas and tastes.


“Symbolism [in the food paintings] disappears over the centuries and the painting techniques evolve over the course of time just as with other subjects in art,’ says Congdon. ‘What does not ever disappear is their lusciousness and the invitation to eat.”

Congdon has kindly re-created the food paintings tour for Los Angeles Times readers, which can be viewed here. Bon Appetit!

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