The Fruits of Empire: Contextualizing Food in Still-Life Representation, 1865-1900


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art and Art History


Between 1865 and 1900, still-life representations of fruit were ubiquitous throughout American homes. In the form of painting, chromolithography, sheet music and sideboard decoration, still lifes abounding with fruit celebrated the burgeoning wealth and agricultural prosperity of North America. Still lifes of fruit also engaged viewers in dialogues about the fate of agricultural land and labor that pressed upon national debates over slavery, immigration, and expansion. Focusing on still lifes of grapes, oranges, bananas and watermelons, this dissertation examines how artists depicted the cultivation of fruit in still lifes to address the broader cultivation of citizenship, territory and empire in the late nineteenth century. This project closes with a brief study of still lifes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to demonstrate how the dialectics of food and empire penetrate representations of fruit beyond the nineteenth century.