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Sunday, May 21, 2017

John F. Francis

Dessert Still-life, Strawberries and Cream, 1855, John F. Francis
If there's anything I love more than art it's food. More specifically, I love desserts. I'm not a finicky eater. If it's sweet, I want it...way too much of it. In fact, there are very few items of this food category which I don't like. I don't care for mangos, apricots, figs, or dates; and you can keep your custard pies. That's about it. Of course, there are some desserts I like better than others. Anything with cherries or raspberries are a strong favorite, and who on earth doesn't like chocolate (and not milk chocolate either, the darker the better). Of course combining cherries, or raspberries, or mint with chocolate doubles the delight. Add some whipped cream (on just about dessert) and you have perfection.

Copyright, Jim Lane

                            Fruit Cocktail,
                                     Jim Lane

Although I have, from time to time painted food, only once or twice have I ever depicted desserts. Fruit Cocktail (above) is one of the few. I don't know for a fact, but I'm going to venture a guess that the early American painter, John F. Francis, also shared my fondness for desserts--God knows he sure painted lots of them. Although he began as a portrait artist around 1845, Francis began dabbling in still-lifes around 1850, and by 1854, he was painting nothing else. Not only that, but only rarely did he depict what was known at the time as "luncheon" still-lifes. It's interesting to note how still-lifes have changed in the past 150 years by comparing Fruit Cocktail with Francis' various "fruity" arrangements (below). Of course, in that same time, the very definition of "dessert" has changed considerably too. It has become a good deal less "raw."

Still-lifes by John F. Francis--still looking good
enough to eat after 150 years.

Portrait of a Man,
John F. Francis
John F. Francis was born in 1808, a lifelong native of Philadelphia, Pennsyl-vania. Francis was mostly self-taught as an artist. Given the exceptional work-manship seen in his paintings, raises the question, as to whether he was an outstanding teacher or an excellent pupil? (Perhaps both?) Initially Francis worked as a portrait paint-er in central and eastern Pennsylvania. Although his portraits are far from ex-ceptional for their time, they do reveal his early fascination with minute details.
In 1845, Francis began exhibiting his works at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Art Union, which promoted American artists by awarding paintings to subscribers by way of lottery drawings. It was in this period that he began to concentrate on still lifes, which had been established as a popular genre in Philadelphia by Raphaelle Peale and others. His first known still-life is dated 1850. Francis became known as a leading creator of luncheon and dessert still-life paintings. Francis was praised by critics for the painterly qualities seen in his work. Later art historians have commented on the freshness of his paint application which balances his sure delineation of form and his creation of texture. John F. Francis died in 1886 at the age of seventy-eight (too many desserts, perhaps).
Onion on Tablecloth, John F. Francis.
(Man does not live by desserts alone.)


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