Monday, August 25, 2003

  "...'Country life has its conveniences,' he would sometimes say. 'You sit on the verandah and you drink tea, while your ducks swim on the pond, there is a delicious smell everywhere, and... and the gooseberries are growing..."
Gooseberries, Anton Chekhov

Berries are morsels of nostalgia for me. Reminders of fragrant summers, familiar trails, juice-stained hands. Remainders of gentler times, a distant country, a faded away era. Deceptively fragile, exotic, and sweetly tart, like my memories.

Hence, the dormant berry-picker in me oohed and aahed at the pleasant discovery of Adriaen Coorte's "Strawberries in a Wan Li Bowl" in a recent NYT review of the Dutch artist's current exhibit at the National Gallery. Coorte's fine, scrumptious still lifes were not the only painted odes to berries I have been feasting on for the past couple of days.

"Strawberries in a Wan-Li Bowl", 1704, Adriaen Coorte "Blue Berries", 1993, Eva Cellini

Eva Cellini is a contemporary painter with affinity for 17th century art.

"You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!.."
-- Robert Lee Frost

"Still-Life with Cherries and Strawberries in China Bowls", 1608, Osias Beert "Basket of Wild Strawberries", 1761, Jean-Simeon Chardin

The French Jean-Simeon Chardin and Louise Moillon, and the Flemish Osias Beert brewed marvelously fruitful things with berries, in varying degrees of light and color control.

"...To one side grew the blackberries and to the other grew huckleberries, but still she walked on. Again he made the plants grow and to one side grew the gooseberries and to the other grew the serviceberries, but still she walked on. The Creator knew that this would have to slow her down and so he went to his garden and grabbed a handful of strawberry plants and threw them to the earth. When they landed at First Woman's feet they began to bloom and ripen, First Woman looked down to see the beautiful leaves and berries of the strawberry plant and stopped to taste just one small berry. As she plucked and ate the berries she forgot her anger..."
Cherokee Legend of the Strawberries

"Still-Life with Cherries, Strawberries and Gooseberries", 1630, Louise Moillon "Blackberries", 2003, Julien Landa

Julien Landa is another contemporary, whose still lifes, painted in 2003, appear immensely accomplished and keen. Landa's solo exhibition is scheduled for November, at Hammer Galleries.

For those wishing to indulge further in the berrying frenzy, I recommend the following stimuli.
Over the fence --
Strawberries -- grow --
Over the fence --
I could climb -- if I tried, I know --
Berries are nice!

But -- if I stained my Apron --
God would certainly scold!
Oh, dear, -- I guess if He were a Boy --
He'd -- climb -- if He could!
-- Emily Dickinson

"Still Life with Strawberries", Pierre Auguste Renoir

On a related, albeit utilitarian note -- can anyone recommend some good places ("pick-your-own" farms, etc) to go berry-picking in the NY tristate area? How about a favorite jam brand?

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