Monday, August 27, 2012


(Wrapped Oranges, William J. McCloskey, 1889, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas)

I've never been a huge fan of still-life paintings.

It's not that I don't appreciate their quiet beauty.

It's just that they never have any people in them.

And I find people to be endlessly interesting.

But then the day came when I was standing smack dab in the middle of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.


I was instantly blown out of my socks by the dramatic, simplistic beauty of a painting entitled “Wrapped Oranges.”

There is absolutely nothing that I do not adore about this painting!

William J. McCloskey painted wrapped oranges many times over the span of his career.

In fact, he seemed to be unusually devoted to this limited subject matter.

Some believe he was on the hunt for artistic perfection with his multiple images of wrapped oranges.

It would certainly seem so, anyway.

We know that decorative, table top still lifes were popular during the Victorian era.

These colorfully composed arrangements usually consisted of fruit, flowers, vegetables or a combination of those objects.

And let's face it, you can't go wrong with most of Mother Nature's productions!

Indeed, you can not open an interior design magazine these days without seeing many references to “organic” decorative design.

Elements in nature calm our spirits and uplift our souls.

That's why they've been popular throughout the ages.

Here's a short list of some better known “organic” objects:





And my personal favorite,


All of these natural elements have been painted gazillions of times since the days of Eve.

And rightly so.

They are restful.

They are beautiful for the human eye to behold.

That's apparent when we see McCloskey's brilliantly painted oranges.

However, perhaps the most fascinating fact about these oranges is this:

Four of them are wrapped in crinkly white tissue paper.


Art technicians might use the word “contrast” to explain McCloskey's decision to use the white paper.

And contrast there is!

We have additional information from the Amon Carter about this artist's motives:

“McCloskey imparted to each specimen a distinctive character. The tissue paper acts as a veil or drape, both suggesting and subtly altering the oranges' color and form.”

Just look at that partially unwrapped orange in the background of the painting.

It looks as if the top portions of the paper have been suddenly unleashed and flung into the very air itself!

To me, those white paper protrusions look like dog ears standing at attention.

We can't avoid noticing them, can we?

That's why I find this painting to be so visually exciting.

That brilliant white paper is covered in tiny creases and folds.

This artistic device lends crackly texture to those oranges.

Where does the light fall in this painting?

Most of the light is focused on the orange nearest the black background.

To be specific, it falls directly on the paper that still enfolds the orange.

But it also falls on each of the wrapped oranges in this painting.

The color white draws light to itself.

Perhaps that's why a car salesman once told me:

“White is the number one color choice of car buyers. When we sell a white car – which is frequently – we call it a “white sale.”

Mr. McCloskey seems to know a thing or two about our innate attraction to white, doesn't he?

What about the unwrapped oranges?

For one thing, they're definitely in the minority in this work of art.

They look like dyed-in-the-wool oranges.

Their color perfectly offsets the stark black background and the brilliant white of the tissue paper.

That lends further drama and life to the painting.

Let's talk about that gorgeous table top for a minute.

Someone has been doing some serious polishing!

Or maybe it's just a spectacular varnishing job.

Either way, the gleam of that table top allows the five foreground oranges to have added time in the visual spotlight.

We could even say that those oranges are basking in their mirrored, reflected glory.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure Mr. McCloskey wouldn't mind that assessment.

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