William Joseph McCloskey, Oranges in Tissue Paper, ca. 1890
Oil on canvas, 10 x 17 in. (25.4 x 43.2 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, 1993.35.21
William Joseph McCloskey established a reputation as an accomplished portrait painter—a fact that might lead viewers to wonder if this picture is less a still life than a "portrait" of bright, ripe oranges, posed tantalizingly against a sumptuous blue curtain. The passage of time is suggested by the various stages in which the oranges lie: wrapped and unwrapped, peeled and unpeeled, a virtual timeline of the fruit's consumption. Depicted here like precious objects, oranges such as these had been until the 1870s coveted commodities, although thanks to the ingenuity of American farmers they were more widely available by the time this work was painted. Oranges were cultivated in the sunny climates of Florida and Southern California, but when Florida fruit growers developed the process of stem cutting—whereby fruit is harvested from the tree before it is fully ripe— they could be wrapped in tissue paper and packed into crates for shipment across the nation and beyond.
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