Paul Cézanne turned me into a food writer.
But it was not for any of the reasons you might imagine.
In the late sixties, when I was a graduate student in art history, my professors were constantly dropping the names of restaurants near great monuments of art. I wrote them all down: the trattoria five minutes from Giotto’s murals in Assisi (“get the ribollita”), the bistro around the corner from Notre Dame that served fantastic choucroute, and the 500-year-old tofu specialist near Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji. And it was while studying Gustav Klimt that I first heard of Demel, Vienna’s venerable emporium of pastry.
The art historians I studied with also enjoyed deconstructing the many meals depicted in art. Together we devoured endless last suppers, along with the painted feasts of Bruegel, Vermeer, and Veronese. They discussed artists like Orozco and de Heem, who used food as both allegory and a means of illuminating ordinary life. And when one professor announced that his next lecture would be devoted to the food of Cézanne, I could hardly wait.
Ruth Reichl received a master’s in history of art in 1970, and went on to become the restaurant critic and food editor of the Los Angeles Times, the restaurant critic of the New York Times, and the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.
Cézanne Drawing, organized by Jodi Hauptman, Senior Curator, and Samantha Friedman, Associate Curator, with Kiko Aebi, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, is on view at MoMA through September 25, 2021.