We all know about the first exercise most aspiring painters are assigned: the bowl-of-fruit still life. But food has played a much larger, sometimes amusing role in the history of fine art. Paints a whole new picture of the proverbial ‘starving artist’…
Salvador Dali and a pet ocelot – ‘caught in the headlights’…
The starving artist is a legendary stereotype in the realm of fine art. As true as it may be of the majority of artists – who never make the limelight – it’s not the norm among the famous. I’ve recently come across a couple of delightful stories involving names you’re certain to recognise…
Dali was a true eccentric among the quirky in the art world. He cultivated an extreme appearance featuring a unique moustache, and loved mugging for the camera.
He was also addicted to the good life. That included inviting mobs of friends to dine with him at exclusive restaurants. And the mischievous devil encouraged his guests to order whatever they liked, as much as they liked.
Though he could well afford to pay the enormous tabs he ran up throwing these massive dinner parties, he often managed to avoid paying. And it wasn’t a matter of dine-and-dash.
When the bill came, Dali would pay it happily, by cheque. But he would sign the cheque with a serendipitous doodle which made the document a work of art. Counting on his fame to carry the day, he gambled that no one would cash a cheque with a Dali drawing on it. They might frame it and hang it on the wall, but they wouldn’t cash it. So often did he pull this scam that it became common knowledge – a Dali trademark, of sorts.
But that is not Dali’s only claim to culinary fame . His first book, Les Dîners De Gala, chronicles memorable dinners with Dali’s wife Gala. Elisabeth Sherman explored his second book, The Wines Of Gala in the October 2017 issue of Food & Drink. Both are available in recent reprint editions.
Henri de Toulouse Lautrek
Famous for his paintings documenting the wild night life of Paris’ Moulin Rouge club, Lautrek (see photo, top of page) was also a noted chef.
When he wasn’t creating immortal works of art, the diminutive Lautrek was often cooking, experimenting with recipes, and entertaining his friends at dinner.
He compiled an extensive collection of his favourite recipes, many original and others adapted. Following his death at age 36 in 1899, his longtime friend and dealer Maurice Joyant published the collection as L’Art de la Cuisine. The book was only published in English translation much later, in 1966 as The Art of Cuisine.
The Amazon blurb describes the work thus: “Like many well-born men of his time, Toulouse-Lautrec loved food – planning it, cooking it, eating it, and talking about it. This culinary memoir features original recipes and exuberant drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec, plus a Preface by Alexandra Leaf describing the French culinary scene of the time.” Many editions are available, in many formats, to fit any budget. Every serious cook should have a copy.
There are a thousand food stories about the greats of the art world. The forgoing are just two of them. I’m going to go Googling and search for more to share with you!
~ Maggie J.