For my final Art for the Month of June entry I’m sharing Albert Francis King’s Late Night Snack, which I saw on display this last December at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of their Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine exhibition. Out of the many wonderful still-life works featured in this exhibit, including those by John F. Peto, William Harnett and John Haberle, this particular piece really resonated with me, if not for the choice of subject matter (beer, mustard, Swiss cheese, and crackers—as specified on the information panel), but also on account of its sparse presentation, direct manner of lighting and exceptional craftsmanship.
I admire the simplicity of King’s arrangement and the quality it lends to this work. Given the tradition of still-life painting, one might expect such a scene to include a tablecloth, or a candle, or an item hanging in background, or something personal to the owner of this snack which might help indicate their identity. All we have here is a hard wood table and our food and beverage along with their receptacles. Given the masculine choice of snack and the fair condition of the humble platter and mustard pot, I would assess this owner is a man of working class tastes who is neither poor nor wealthy, though that only narrows it down by a slight margin. By keeping the owner’s identity anonymous, King has opened his work up to represent a larger audience. At any rate, the painting offers nothing which might distract one’s attention from the indicated snack.
That said, while goods on display look perfectly suitable for consumption, they aren't made any more tantalizing by the choice of lighting. As one can see in the reflections throughout the glasswear, our light source is coming from a window off to the left, and it meets the items on the table while leaving the background in almost complete darkness. This isn’t a warm, inviting light either, and I believe it alludes to something more pensive. One might say this direct, high contrast lighting is meant to urge caution against the gluttonous food and drink on display, or perhaps even offer a sober look at temptation as it exists in the natural world.
Aside from pondering the artist’s intent behind this mysterious painting, I also find the work aesthetically pleasing and extremely well-crafted. It signifies all those things I hold dear to still life painting. I love that translucency of the bottles, the delicate rendering of the beer bubbles and foam, the ornate flower design on the mustard pot, the slight imperfections of the crackers, the texture of the off-white cork, and of course the subtle highlights applied within the eyes of the Swiss cheese.
I think this is an awesome work of art, and I hope you enjoyed it as well.
Details behind the cut.