Dine & Wine

Orange Is the New Black: Pumpkins in Art

Joanna Kaszubowska 25 October 2023 min Read

During this time of the year, the color orange rules the world (when it’s not grey skies and rain, of course). Everything from leaves to grass turns various shades of orange, and most importantly of all – the pumpkins take over. As Halloween approaches, shops are full of them. But they’re not only in shops; pumpkins have made their way into art too.

Yayoi Kusama (Photo: courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, David Zwirner, New York, and KUSAMA Enterprise; © Yayoi Kusama) - pumpkin
Pumpkins in Art: Yayoi Kusama, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, UK.

I love the word “pumpkin.” It has a certain bounciness to it. Try saying pumpkin quickly ten times, it will bring a smile to your face. It comes from the word pepon (πέπων), which is Greek for “large melon”. Pumpkin is also good for you, like carrot, being the source of vitamin A. We should all be carrying pumpkins proudly, like the girl below.

Fausto Zonaro, Young Girl Carrying a Pumpkin, Sakıp Sabancı Museum - pumpkin, Halloween
Pumpkins in Art: Fausto Zonaro, Young Girl Carrying a Pumpkin, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, Istanbul, Turkey.

Pumpkin has a special texture, which clearly seems interesting to painters. The combination of tough, hard skin with supple, soft flesh challenges a painter’s skills. In the painting below, the pumpkin also provides a welcome, warm counterpoint to the cold colors of the remaining objects– creating the main tension line with the blindingly white jug.

Pumpkins in Art: Théodule Ribot, Still Life with Pumpkin, Plums, Cherries, Figs, and Jug, ca. 1860, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Bilbao, Spain.

Vincent van Gogh chose to opt for a more symmetrical composition. But with two jars and two pumpkins, it would be dull if he had decided to stick to the perfect symmetry, so he instead decided to stay closer to imperfect nature. Both jars and pumpkins retain their own distinct features.

Pumpkins in Art: Vincent van Gogh, Still Life with Two Jars and Two Pumpkins, 1885, private collection. WikiArt.

Here, we have a bit of a more cheerful take on the pumpkin. Bodegón (Spanish for tavern or pantry) is a Spanish term for still-life paintings always set with food as if waiting for the cook to come and start their work. This genre became very popular in Spain during the first half of the 17th century.

Pumpkins in Art: Juan van der Hamen, Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, 1625, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

To get us in the Halloween mood and give you some inspiration, let’s look at a few works of Maniac Pumpkin Carvers. For seven years now, they have been carving those beautiful orange fruits for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, creating their Artists Series. Below, you can see a few examples. Look at how inspiring a fruit it can be!

Pumpkins in Art: Maniac Pumpkin Carvers’ interpretation of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Pinterest.
Pumpkins in Art: Maniac Pumpkin Carvers, pumpkin carving inspired by the artist Keith Haring. Artsy.

The tradition of jack-o’-lantern is associated with the story of Stingy Jack, who managed to trick the devil, but in the process also tricked himself. Jack was one of the few characters (Faust, Pan Twardowski) that managed to trick the devil. It makes one question the devil’s level of intelligence when we read those stories, but then the tricksters are usually also punished in the process, sacrificing more than they bargained for.

Pumpkins in Art: Maniac Pumpkin Carvers’ interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. CNN.
Pumpkins in Art: Maniac Pumpkin Carvers’ interpretation of Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. CNN.


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