Nov 112017
 

Today is the birthday of Frans Snyders or Snijders (1579-1657), a Flemish painter noted for his paintings of animals, hunting scenes, market scenes and still lifes. He was one of the earliest specialists in specifically animal paintings without humans in them, and he is credited with initiating a wide variety of new still-life and animal subjects in Antwerp. He was a regular collaborator with leading Antwerp painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. I have always been a fan of Flemish and Dutch still lifes and, in fact, often recreated them with real fruit and vegetables as centerpieces at dinner parties.

Snyders was born in Antwerp, son of Jan Snijders, the keeper of a wine inn frequented by artists. Snyders had five siblings. His brother Michiel also became a painter but no works by him are known to have survived. Snyders was recorded as a student of Pieter Brueghel the Younger in 1593, and subsequently trained with Hendrick van Balen, who was the first master of Anthony van Dyck. Snyders became a master of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1602. He travelled to Italy in 1608-9 where he first lived in Rome. He subsequently traveled from Rome to Milan. Jan Brueghel the Elder had introduced him there by letter to the famous art collector Cardinal Borromeo. Brueghel asked Snyders to paint a copy after a portrait by Titian in the Borromeo collection. This act is regarded as evidence that Snyders was a skilled figure painter before he turned his attention to still life painting, although his collaborations with other artists involved him painting animals and backgrounds and the other artists painting the human figures. is collaboration with Rubens started in the 1610s.

Snyders had many patrons including the Ghent Bishop Antonius Triest who commissioned four paintings of market scenes around 1615 (Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg). He was a friend of van Dyck who painted Snyders and his wife more than once (leading image). Snyders was commercially successful and was able to purchase a house on the high-end Keizerstraat in Antwerp. In 1628 he became the dean of the Guild of Saint Luke.

In the period 1636-1638 he was one of the Antwerp artists who assisted Rubens in a large commission for decorations for the hunting pavilion Torre de la Parada of Philip IV of Spain. The two artists also worked together on decorations for the Royal Alcazar of Madrid and the royal Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. Snyders painted about 60 hunting paintings and animal pieces after designs by Rubens. In 1639 Rubens and Snyders received a follow-up commission for an additional 18 paintings for the hunting pavilion.

In the years 1641 and 1642 Snyders traveled with other artists to the Dutch Republic. In 1646 Snyders was probably in Breda working on a commission. Snyders became a widower in 1647. He died  on 19 August 1657 in Antwerp. He died childless and bequeathed his fortune to his sister, a beguine (a lay sister in a religious community).

Snyders initially devoted himself to painting flowers, fruit and still lifes. Later he turned to painting animals. He was particularly interested in depicting wild animals, which he showed engaged in lively hunts and fierce combats. He was one of the earliest specialist animaliers. His work as an animal painter was very influential on his contemporaries as well as on 18th-century French animal painters.

His stay in Italy is believed to have had an important influence on his style of fruit painting. He is likely to have seen Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit in Cardinal Borremeo’s collection in Milan.

He painted many market scenes and his earliest work in this area was inspired by the work of Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer who had pioneered and developed the genre in 16th century Antwerp. Whereas Aertsen and Beuckelaer often included a religious scene in the background of their market pieces, Snyders dispensed with this. Initially he worked in a Mannerist idiom. His style gradually matured as a result of his exposure to Italian art during his trip to Italy and the work of Rubens after his return to Antwerp. As a result the dark surroundings of his early still lifes disappeared after 1614 and he became a fine colorist with strong compositional skills allowing him to structure a profusion of disparate objects.

He not only created many large market and pantry scenes and game still lifes, usually including dead deer. He also painted smaller works which were reminiscent of the breakfast pieces and still lifes that originated in northern art around 1600. Rather than continue the descriptive manner of the Antwerp painter Osias Beert, Snyders’ innovative still lifes combined objects in groups to form a geometrically structured composition. Recurring motifs were dead hares and birds, tazze (shallow dishes on a tall foot), baskets with grapes and other fruit, enameled pitchers and Chinese Kraak porcelain.

Snyders typically depicted game in the stage before it is prepared as food. These dead animals therefore resemble hunting trophies, which were often not even intended as food but rather for stuffing. Snyders often included live animals such as cats to create a contrast between the animate and inanimate elements. Snyders’ large game pieces were very influential and the Dutch painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem, who worked in Antwerp for a significant period of time took inspiration from Snyders’ work to develop his own large-scale game pieces.

Snyders is believed to have been a skilled figure painter in his own right as is evidenced by Jan Breughel the Elder’s request that he make a copy after a Titian portrait in the Borromeo collection during his stay in Milan. Even so he still often collaborated with figure artists such as Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, his brother-in-law Cornelis de Vos, Theodoor van Thulden and Jan Boeckhorst, who painted the figures in compositions to which he added the still life elements. He also collaborated with landscape specialists such as Jan Wildens, who provided the landscape setting for his hunting scenes.

Collaborations with Rubens were particularly frequent. Snyders’ expressiveness and ability to render different textures of furs and skins excited the admiration of Rubens. Rubens frequently employed him to paint animals, fruit and still life in his own pictures. Snyders developed a particularly close collaborative relationship with Rubens between 1610 and 1640. Their collaborative efforts are well documented. In the early period of their collaboration, Rubens would paint an oil sketch of the complete composition and mark out clearly where Snyders would have to put his contribution. This has been documented for the painting The recognition of Philopoemen. It is possible that in this early period Rubens was not sure about Snyders’ compositional skills and wanted to show him the way. In the later Prometheus bound the process was reversed and Snyders made a sketch leaving the space for the figure by Rubens. The recognition of Philopoemen is reckoned to be the first Baroque still life with figures.

A famous collaboration between Rubens and Snyders is the Medusa (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Painted around 1613-1617/1618, this small-scale work showed that Snyders’ manner was not only well suited to Rubens’ large pieces, but also adaptable to his smaller-scale works. Rubens relied on Snyders to create the visual richness that went hand in hand with his Baroque style, which stressed abundance and bounteousness. The two artists’ brushwork was so close that contemporaries had difficulty distinguishing their contributions in collaborative works.

Snyders also painted the still life elements for other Antwerp painters such as Jacob Jordaens, Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, Jan Janssens and other artists. Frans Snyders collaborated with his second brother-in-law Cornelis de Vos. An example is the Still life with fruit and vegetables, which likely represents a larder of a fine house. The impression given by this composition is one of abundance as well as chaos. Closer inspection shows that the produce is arranged in a hierarchy reflecting their value and rarity. Cheaper root vegetables are on the ground while highly prized peas and asparagus are placed in the basket on the right.

One of the symbolic representations that Snyders created and to which he returned regularly is the concert of birds. Compositions on this theme represent different species of birds perched on tree trunks in the form of a concert of birds, sometimes with a musical score. The theme of the concert of birds predates the courtly fashion of the Baroque period of maintaining aviaries.

His compositions with monkeys wreaking havock in a pantry became very popular. The Louvre collection holds two monkey-themed paintings. They show two capuchin monkeys in a pantry pillaging a basket of fruit and toppling dishes. While the monkey had since the Middle Ages symbolized the sinner – a greedy, lecherous creature, driven by its senses only – during the 16th and 17th centuries it became the prime symbol of stupidity.

Here’s a 17th century Flemish/Dutch recipe for the day. It comes from an anonymous text of 1667: De verstandige kock, of sorghvuldige huys houdster (the wise cook, or caring householder). I am a little uncertain of my translation in places, given that I speak no Dutch. It says to spice the meat with “Noten” for example, which usually means “nuts” but is translated as “nutmeg” in some versions online of this recipe. I have not tried this recipe yet, but on first glance I can see problems with placing egg yolks raw inside a ground veal wrapping. It seems like a pretty idea but rather difficult to manage. I’d be inclined to boil some eggs first, take out the yolks whole, then pack the ground veal mix around them and wrap them in lettuce leaves. It’s also possible that this whole idea is a misreading of the recipe, but it is specific about one yolk per meatball.

Om Frickedillen in Krop-Salaet te maken.

Neemt gehakt kalfs-vlees, met kalfsvet wat vetter als ordinaris,  en dat wel gekruydt met Noten en een weynich Foelie, Peper en Sout na behooren, kneet wel ondereen, neemt dan soo veel van de malste kroppen salaet als’t u belieft, en suyvert die van de buytenste bladeren, en dan schoon uytgewassen en de krop van binnen de bladers wat open ghedaen, neemt dan soo veel eyren als gy kroppen hebt, maeckt oock soo veel Frickedillekens, en doet in’t midden van yder den door van een ey, leght dan in de krop en bindt hem met een draedt toe, en als’t water koockt, doet in de pot als het gaer is, kont dan in’t sop een weynigh fijn gestooten beschuyt doen, en wat boter, wat Kruys-bessen of onrijpe Druyven, Verjuys, naer elck sijn believen.

To make meatballs in lettuce head.

Take chopped veal with veal-fat, a little fatter than usual, and spice it with nutmeg and a little mace, pepper and salt as appropriate. Knead everything together, then take as many tender lettuce heads as you please, and take off the outer leaves. Wash the heads and open up the inner leaves. Take as many eggs as you have heads and make as many little meatballs [from the ground veal mixture]. Place an egg yolk in the middle of each [meatball], and put it inside the head. Tie it up with string. Boil water in a pot and place them in the boiling water. When cooked you can add to the broth a little finely crushed rusk and some butter, some gooseberries or unripe grapes or verjuice, according to your tastes.

Oct 252017
 

Today is the birthday (1881) of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, usually shortened to Pablo Picasso. Pablo is the first of his many given names and Picasso is his mother’s father’s family name in the combination of Ruiz y Picasso which is the usual Spanish way of denoting father’s and mother’s family names. Picasso needs no introduction, so I am going to dispense with most (not all) of my usual biographical and technical information in posting on him and cut to the chase. I will also admit that I am posting this year about Picasso because I have 2 recipes which he wrote for Vogue magazine. This is a food blog after all. Sometimes people forget that fact.

Picasso was born in Málaga in Andalusia, the first child of Don José Ruiz y Blasco (1838–1913) and María Picasso y López. Picasso’s father was a painter who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. For most of his life Ruiz was a professor of art at the School of Crafts and a curator of a local museum. Ruiz’s ancestors were minor aristocrats. Picasso showed a passion and a skill for drawing from an early age. According to his mother, his first words were “piz, piz”, a shortening of lápiz, the Spanish word for “pencil.” From the age of 7, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting. Ruiz was a traditional academic artist and instructor, who believed that proper training required disciplined copying of the masters, and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models.

The family moved to A Coruña in 1891, where his father became a professor at the School of Fine Arts. They stayed almost 4 years. In 1895, Picasso was traumatized when his 7-year-old sister, Conchita, died of diphtheria. After her death, the family moved to Barcelona, where Ruiz took a position at its School of Fine Arts. Picasso thrived in the city, regarding it in times of sadness or nostalgia as his true home. Ruiz persuaded the officials at the academy to allow his son to take an entrance exam for the advanced class. This process often took students a month, but Picasso completed it in a week, and the jury admitted him, at just 13. Picasso lacked discipline but made friendships that would affect him in later life. His father rented a small room for him close to home so he could work alone, yet he checked up on him numerous times a day, judging his drawings. The two argued frequently.

Picasso’s father and uncle decided to send him to Madrid’s Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the country’s foremost art school. At age 16, Picasso set off for the first time on his own, but he disliked formal instruction and stopped attending classes soon after enrollment. Madrid held many other attractions. The Prado housed paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Francisco Zurbarán. Picasso especially admired the works of El Greco; elements such as his elongated limbs, arresting colors, and mystical visages are echoed in Picasso’s later work.

Picasso’s progress as an artist can be traced in the collection of his early works now held by the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, which provides one of the most comprehensive records extant of any major artist’s beginnings. During 1893 the juvenile quality of his earliest work falls away, and by 1894 his career as a painter can be said to have begun. The academic realism apparent in the works of the mid-1890s is well displayed in The First Communion (1896), a large composition that depicts his sister, Lola. In the same year, at the age of 14, he painted Portrait of Aunt Pepa, a dramatic portrait that in hindsight presages great things.

Art historians usually divide Picasso’s oeuvre into “periods,” which I find a bit academic and stilted, but for the sake of brevity I’ll play along. The resultant gallery does show Picasso’s evolution as an artist which is something I like to contemplate with any artist. My question is always: What did this artist paint besides the immediately recognizable stuff? In Picasso’s case it’s more a matter of: “How did he get here from there?”

We start with the blue period (1901-1904) when he painted primarily monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors. These somber works painted first in Barcelona and then Paris, are now some of his most popular works, although he had difficulty selling them at the time. During this period Picasso was financially hard up and chronically depressed.  It shows. So does the influence of El Greco (to me, at least).

Picasso’s rose period (1904-1906) presents some more pleasant themes of clowns, harlequins, carnival performers, depicted in cheerful vivid hues of red, orange, pink and earth tones, although the somberness of the blue period is still there. These paintings are largely (not exclusively) based on memory rather than direct observation and marks the beginning of his stylistic experiments with primitivism influenced by pre-Roman Iberian sculpture, Oceanic and African art.

Picasso’s African period (1907-1909), also sometimes called the proto-cubist period, begins with his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Picasso painted this composition in a style inspired by Iberian sculpture, but repainted the faces of the two figures on the right after being powerfully impressed by African artefacts he saw in June 1907 in the ethnographic museum at Palais du Trocadéro. When he displayed the painting to acquaintances in his studio later that year, the nearly universal reaction was shock and revulsion. Matisse angrily dismissed the work as a hoax. Consequently, Picasso did not exhibit Le Demoiselles publicly until 1916. Formal ideas developed during this period lead directly into the Cubist period that follows.

Picasso and Georges Braque developed analytic cubism jointly and their paintings in the years 1909 to 1912 often seem stylistically indistinguishable. I am attracted to the cubist paintings of the era by different artists, but I do also notice a fair degree of sameness among them. In mitigation I will also say that I admire collaboration among creative people. I’d appreciate being able to do something similar in my waning years, but I travel too much to settle into a group.

From 1912 to 1919 Picasso’s cubist style shifted from strict analytic cubism to what he called crystal cubism – a more distilled form of cubism – and also towards cubist collage. This is sometimes called his synthetic cubist period. At this point, you can begin to see how the grouping of Picasso’s paintings into “periods,” not especially helpful all along, begins to crumble. During this “period” some of his contemporary complained that he was defecting from cubism back to realism. During this time Picasso entertained a distinguished coterie of friends in the Montmartre and Montparnasse quarters, including André Breton, Guillaume Apollinaire, Alfred Jarry, and Gertrude Stein. (As an aside, Apollinaire was arrested on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. Apollinaire pointed to Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated).

 

In February 1917, Picasso made his first trip to Italy. In the period following the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Picasso produced work in a neoclassical style. This “return to order” is evident in the work of many European artists in the 1920s. Picasso’s paintings and drawings from this period frequently recall the work of Raphael and Ingres.

In 1925 the Surrealist writer and poet André Breton declared Picasso as ‘one of ours’ in his article “Le Surréalisme et la peinture”, published in Révolution surréaliste. Yet Picasso exhibited Cubist works at the first Surrealist group exhibition in 1925; the concept of ‘psychic automatism in its pure state’ defined in the Manifeste du surréalisme never appealed to him entirely.

During the 1930s, the minotaur replaced the harlequin as a common motif in Picasso’s work. His use of the minotaur came partly from his contact with the surrealists, who often used it as their symbol, and it appears in his Guernica (1937). Guernica is Picasso’s depiction of the German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. This large canvas embodies for many the inhumanity, brutality and hopelessness of war. Asked to explain its symbolism, Picasso said, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.” Guernica was exhibited in July 1937 at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition, and then became the centerpiece of an exhibition of 118 works by Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Henri Laurens that toured Scandinavia and England. After the victory of Francisco Franco in Spain, the painting was sent to the United States to raise funds and support for Spanish refugees. Until 1981 it was entrusted to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, as it was Picasso’s expressed desire that the painting should not be delivered to Spain until liberty and democracy had been established in the country.

I saw Guernica in 2007 when I was in Madrid. At the time it was housed in its own exhibit at the Museo Reina Sofia along with dozens of photographs showing Picasso painting it, preliminary sketches Picasso made, and a host of related items exploring the painting’s imagery. I spent a large part of a day at the exhibit.

All right, I’ll leave it there and move to Picasso’s recipes – finally !! These recipes come from Vogue September 1st, 1964, and are reproduced on this website https://www.vogue.com/article/haute-cuisine-pablo-picasso-recipes-vogue At the time Vogue was in the habit of contacting famous people and asking for their favorite recipes. This is Picasso’s contribution. The material is copyright by Vogue.

Picasso’s Omelette Tortilla Niçoise for Four People

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion

4 peppers, red and green

3 tomatoes

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

8 eggs

Salt and pepper

In a flat-bottomed frying pan, heat oil gently, adding the onion, sliced and separated into rings. After 5 minutes, add the peppers, seeded and diced. Mix and cook gently for a few minutes, then slip in the tomatoes, seeded, peeled, and cubed. After mixing and seasoning, cover pan and let simmer over a low flame for 1 hour. Vegetables should not stick. Uncover the pan, pour in the wine vinegar, and let cook until liquid is reduced.

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Pour them over the vegetables, mix well, and let the omelette cook gently without touching it. When it is well set, put a big plate over the pan and reverse the omelette onto it, then slide it back into the pan on the other side. Finish over a higher flame until golden underneath. Cut the omelette tortilla like a pie, and serve with a bowl of garlic-mayonnaise seasoned with saffron.

Picasso’s Eel Stew for Four People

6 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoons butter

12 small white onions

1 teaspoon sugar

2 yellow onions, chopped

12 mushrooms

⅓ pound salt pork, cubed

2 shallots, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 eels of about 1 pound each, cut into four- to five-inch sections

1 bottle of good red wine

1 tablespoon flour

Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper

Bouquet garni: thyme, bay leaf, parsley, fennel, and a small branch of celery

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan, add small white onions and sprinkle them with sugar. When golden on all sides, cover the pan and cook gently, turning onions carefully from time to time. Be sure they are well caramelized without sticking. After 10 minutes add the salt pork cut in cubes; when transparent, put in the mushroom heads, and let simmer.

At the same time: Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of oil in a casserole. Cover the bottom with 2 chopped onions, minced shallots, garlic, and chopped mushroom stems. Put the bouquet garni in the center and the sections of fish around it. Season and cook gently for 5 minutes, then cover with wine. Bring to a boil, then lower flame as far as possible, to simmer, without boiling, for 15 minutes.

Drain the pieces of eel and place in the frying pan with the small onions. Keep warm over a low flame.

Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, return to high flame and reduce, uncovered for 5 minutes. Work 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon flour into a paste, and add it in bits to thicken sauce; stir to boiling point before removing from stove.

Cover the eel stew with sauce; and serve surrounded by croutons fried in butter.

May 212017
 

Today is the birthday (1844) of Henri Julien Félix Rousseau, French post-impressionist painter, sometimes  known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a slightly off-hand joke concerning his day job as an import tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties but was ridiculed during his lifetime by critics. He was not fully recognized as a self-taught genius until after his death when his work exerted an enormous influence on several generations of artists.

Rousseau was born in Laval (in northwest France near Brittany), in 1844, son of plumber. He attended secondary school in Laval first as a day student, and then as a boarder after his father became a debtor and his parents had to leave the town upon the seizure of their house. After school, he worked for a lawyer and studied law, but after a short stint tired of the work and joined the army. He served for 4 years, starting in 1863, but on his father’s death, he moved to Paris to support his widowed mother as a government employee. In 1868, he married Clémence Boitard, his landlord’s 15-year-old daughter, with whom he had six children (only one survived). In 1871, he was appointed as a collector of the octroi of Paris, collecting taxes on goods entering Paris. His wife died in 1888 and he married Josephine Noury in 1898.

From 1886, he exhibited regularly in the Salon des Indépendants, and, although his work was not placed prominently, it drew an increasing following over the years. Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) was exhibited in 1891, and Rousseau received his first serious review when the young artist Félix Vallotton wrote: “His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed; it’s the alpha and omega of painting.” In 1893, Rousseau moved to a studio in Montparnasse where he lived and worked until his death in 1910. In 1897, he produced one of his most famous paintings, La Bohémienne endormie (The Sleeping Gypsy).

In 1905, Rousseau’s large jungle scene The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants near works by younger leading avant-garde artists such as Henri Matisse, and by a group now generally known as Les Fauves.

After Rousseau’s retirement in 1893, he supplemented his small pension with part-time jobs and casual work such as playing a violin in the streets. He also worked briefly at Le petit journal, where he produced a number of its covers. Rousseau exhibited his final painting, The Dream, in March 1910, at the Salon des Independants.

In the same month Rousseau cut his leg and the wound became infected, which he ignored. In August he was admitted to the Necker Hospital in Paris, where his son had died, and was found to have gangrene in his leg. After an operation, he died from a blood clot on September 2, 1910.

At his funeral, seven friends stood at his grave: the painters Paul Signac and Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, the artist couple Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk, the sculptor Brâncuși, Rousseau’s landlord Armand Queval, and poet Guillaume Apollinaire who wrote the epitaph Brâncuși put on the tombstone (translated here):

We salute you
Gentile Rousseau you can hear us
Delaunay his wife Monsieur Queval and myself
Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates
of heaven
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light of truth
Painting as you once did my portrait
Facing the stars

Here is a small gallery of some of my favorites.  I’m not particularly taken with his usual flat representation of the human figure, but I do like his portrayal of foliage, his colors, and his general composition. De gustibus . . .  I am not (nor want to be) an art historian.

Figuring out a recipe du jour is dead simple because of a famous event towards the end of Rousseau’s life. In 1908 Pablo Picasso, at the time an up and coming star, came across a painting by Rousseau (Portrait of a Woman) being sold in a junk shop cheaply as a canvas to be painted over. He was moved by the artistry, bought the painting, sought out the artist, and held a half serious, half burlesque banquet in his studio at Le Bateau-Lavoir in Rousseau’s honor. “Le Banquet Rousseau,” as it has come to be known is now legendary. US poet and literary critic John Malcolm Brinnin, wrote that it “was neither an orgiastic occasion nor even an opulent one. Its subsequent fame grew from the fact that it was a colorful happening within a revolutionary art movement at a point of that movement’s earliest success, and from the fact that it was attended by individuals whose separate influences radiated like spokes of creative light across the art world for generations.” Guests at the banquet included, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Metzinger, Constantin Brâncuși, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, André Salmon, Maurice Raynal, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, and Leo and Gertrude Stein.

The banquet was designed to be in two stages: first a formal dinner for 30 special guests, and second a general party for anyone who wanted to attend. Unfortunately, Picasso mixed up his dates and had ordered catered food (from a cheap local bistro) for the formal dinner for the wrong night. Consequently there was a scramble to provide dinner, and French artist’s model Fernande Olivier who shared the apartment with Picasso, made a big batch of riz à la valencienne — i.e. the French idea of paella — while Gertrude Stein raced around Montmatre in search of cheeses, sardines, bread and so forth as hors d’ouevres.

You can read all about the events of the banquet elsewhere. There are numerous stories and vignettes recounted by those present. Rousseau arrived at 8 pm when the guests (who had been drinking since 5 pm) were, let’s say, in jovial spirits. He was wearing his artist’s beret with a cane in one hand and his violin in the other. An odd sight: the short, white-haired, 64 year old painter greeted by 20-something artists and poets living in the heart of Bohemia, who would all go on to be world famous, but at the time were just beginning to be noticed. All of them ultimately drew inspiration, in one way or another, from Rousseau’s work.  Opinion is sharply divided as to whether the attendees (and Picasso himself) were truly honoring Rousseau or mocking him. Probably a bit of both at the time. But in death Rousseau had the last laugh: the painting that Picasso bought for 5 francs and displayed that night is now valued at $100 million.

Paella varies considerably around the world and is rarely cooked as they make it in Valencia. You’ll find one traditional recipe of mine here, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cesare-borgia/  Throughout Spain, France, and Italy people prepare a variety of dishes of saffron rice with fish, meat, and vegetables which they think of as “Spanish rice”, and, of course, I have no idea what actually went into the dish at Rousseau’s banquet. But the typical Parisian riz à la valenciennes, calls for chicken, mussels, chorizo, and shrimp, with bell peppers and onions; a far cry from the rabbit, beans, and snails in Valencian paella. It is essential to have a wide, deep skillet to prepare this dish, preferably a paella pan.  A wood fire won’t hurt either, but a gas stove will do.

Riz à la Valenciennes

Ingredients

1 small chicken, cut in 12 pieces
olive oil
½ L/1 pint unshelled fresh mussels, fully scrubbed and debearded
160 ml/⅔ cup dry white wine
6-8 large shrimp, raw
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
100 g/3½ oz. chorizo, finely sliced
250 gm/2 cups short-grain rice
800 ml/ 3½ cups chicken broth
½ tsp powdered saffron
salt and freshly ground black pepper
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the chicken pieces until they are golden on all sides. Because they are small, this process will ensure that they are almost, but not entirely, cooked through. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl with their juices and set aside.

Heat half the white wine in a large pot. Add the mussels, cover and cook over high heat until the mussels are just open. Discard any mussels that do not open, and transfer the mussels to a bowl with their juices (strained through muslin) and set aside.

Sauté the shrimp in a little olive oil until they turn pink. Set aside.

Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons olive over medium heat in a large skillet or paella pan. Add the onions and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Add the chorizo slices and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the rice and sauté an additional 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the remaining white wine and allow it to evaporate completely. Add the broth and saffron, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring the broth to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down as low as possible. Let the rice to cook for about 15 minutes, undisturbed. Remove the cover and check the rice. It should be barely cooked. If need be cook a little longer. When the rice is almost ready, arrange the chicken pieces, mussels and shrimp on top of the rice. Add their juices to the skillet. Cover and allow to cook over low heat for 5 minutes more.

Uncover, garnish with the fresh parsley, and serve in the skillet.

Serves 4