In the first of these two articles looking at paintings of the fruit harvest, we had reached the Impressionist depictions of cherry-picking by Berthe Morisot in 1891. Towards the end of the century came more diverse styles.
Maurice Denis interpreted the popular contemporary motif of women picking fruit in high Nabi style in The Ladder in the Foliage (1892). Gone are patterned dresses, replaced by flowing curves more typical of art nouveau illustrations. There are no fruit either, and the poses of these women suggest a more spiritual purpose in their ascent.
Henry Herbert La Thangue painted In the Orchard in 1893, presumably in Sussex. His brushwork has become a profusion of fine marks more typical of Impressionism. Although the figures and baskets of fruit are quite tightly detailed, much of the rest of his canvas is more painterly and atmospheric.
At the end of the century, Alphonse Mucha made several series of prints showing the four seasons. Among these is The Four Seasons, probably from around 1897-1900, with autumn embodied in armfuls of vibrantly coloured fruit.
La Thangue’s Gathering Plums from 1901 is similar in execution to In the Orchard, above, with a young woman and a boy collecting fallen plums in their wickerwork baskets under dappled light.
For John Singer Sargent’s group portrait of The Ladies Alexandra, Mary, and Theo Acheson, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1902, only citrus fruits would suffice. These sisters sit around the front of a huge urn decorated with floral garlands, as one of them reaches up to pick oranges from a tree. Those oranges are a subtle status symbol: nowhere in England will they grow outdoors in such quantity. The orange tree could only have been nurtured in a heated greenhouse, on the family estate.
Evelyn De Morgan’s Cadence of Autumn from 1905 is one of my favourite paintings of autumn, and is centred on the fruit harvest. Five women are shown in a frieze, against a rustic background. From the left, one holds a basket of grapes and other fruit, two are putting marrows, apples, pears and other fruit into a large net bag, held between them. The fourth crouches down from a seated position, her hands grasping leaves, and the last is stood, letting the wind blow leaves out from each hand. They wear loose robes which are coloured (from the left) lilac, gold, brown, green, and black.
The landscape behind them contains a watermill and surrounding buildings. At the left, the trees are heavy with fruit and the fields either green or ripe corn. At the right, the trees are barren, and the landscape hilly and more wintry. Soft blue-white patches of mist are visible in the foreground on the right. The passing of the season, and the fruit harvest, progresses in time from the left to the right, in this almost unique composition.
My last conventional painting of the fruit harvest was made by Susan Watkins when she visited the island of Capri in about 1906. These Boys Picking Grapes at Capri (c 1906) shows the loose, painterly, and richly chromatic style typical of her mature work.
Aside from the mythology of Cybele, fruit had a specific role in the myths and legends of the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides.
Cornelis van Haarlem’s painting of The Hesperides Filling the Cornucopia from 1622 makes no reference to the famous golden apples, but to filling the Horn of Plenty with a wide range of fruit and other produce.
References are no more obvious in Hans von Marées’ triptych The Hesperides from 1884. Its central panel reads clearly, but to the left two young men appear to be picking the apples, and to the right a much older man is there with some small children.
JMW Turner’s The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides (1806) shows the best-known story of Eris, the personification of Discord, obtaining the golden apple which led to the Judgement of Paris, and ultimately to the fall of Troy. This shows Eris as an older woman, dressed in a red skirt, in the centre foreground. She is choosing between two golden apples that have just been picked from the surrounding garden by the Hesperides.
Lucas Cranach the Elder’s workshop painted Hercules Steals the Apples of the Hesperides after 1537, mixing several different myths into one. Here it is Heracles who is picking golden apples, as the three Hesperides look on passively. Ladon is laid out in the foreground, with plenty of heads and eyes, instead of being a snake. Behind the figures are three sheep, which appear in alternative myths about the Hesperides. Indeed, Boccaccio’s account concludes that the Hesperides were the owners of sheep rather than guardians of golden apples.
But the greatest story of them all is that of the downfall of Adam and Eve, when she tempts him to eat the forbidden fruit, an apple.
The cherubic head in Rubens’ painting of The Fall of Man, based loosely on Titian’s original, is that of the Devil in the guise of an anthropomorphic serpent, who hands Eve the apple which brought about expulsion from God’s Garden of Eden.
Perhaps we should go steady with those apples after all.