I love asparagus and I love still life paintings—put the two together and I am over the moon! I also adore the paintings of the French artist Edouard Manet (1832-83), so you can only imagine my delight when I saw his Asparagus Still Life while visiting the Wallraf Richartz Museum in Cologne, Germany.
Manet’s asparagus are not the skinny specimens that fill the grocery store shelves during the off-season, but are big and beefy and seem ready to burst from their bindings. The painting is intimate and close to life size, so it draws the viewer in to revel in the purples, greens, mauves, and whites that enliven the stalks. Manet’s prowess with color is on display here in the asparagus, the greens that provide a ground, and the white table that is the base.
Manet also painted a still life that pictured only one asparagus. I always visit this painting at the Musée d’Orsay when I’m in Paris and never knew that the two paintings were related. Apparently when Manet sold A Bunch of Asparagus, his client sent him 1000 francs instead of the asking price of 800 francs. Rather than return the 200 francs, Manet sent him the Orsay painting of the single stalk with the note: “There was one missing from your bunch.”
Last year I had the pleasure of being in Paris in June and was able to shop the local market for my own bunches of asparagus. Here is my Still Life with Asparagus. I couldn’t resist adding a few other treasures from the market.