Farm to Table, or Still Life to Label: Food & 19th-Century Visual Culture

Social media mavens post photograph after photograph of their dinner plates.  Extensive social movements organize in protest of genetically modified foods.  A documentary chronicling a month of eating McDonald’s meals gains critical acclaim.  An array of cultural behaviors related to food and visual culture underline life in twenty-first century America.  But, nineteenth-century visual culture, like James Peale’s 1828 Still Life with Yellow Blossoms and a ca. 1870-1890 lithographed Shaker seed box label (both pictured below, courtesy of Winterthur), suggests that flurries of cultural practices related to food and art are not modern phenomena.

James Peale, Still Life with Yellow BlossomsJames Peale, Still Life with Yellow Blossoms, oil on canvas, 1828.  Winterthur Museum, 1957.0625.

Shaker box labelCosack & Co. (Buffalo, New York) lithographers, Box label for “Shakers’ Genuine Vegetable & Flower Seeds,” chromolithograph, ca. 1870-1890.  Winterthur Museum, 1961.0080.

This video narrates a comparison between these two nineteenth-century works to show how visual culture reflects and projects cultural attitudes towards food, health, and the natural world.  In particular, this comparison points to the evolution of foodways through the nineteenth century, emblematic of broader social and cultural change happening in the United States at this time.  Food matters!


By Katie Bonanno, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, Class of 2016

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