CA Mushrooms

Mushroom Art Registry:
A Sampler of European Paintings with Mushrooms

We present here an overview of the registry.

Before 1500, mushrooms are seldom found in European art. A rare example is seen in the panel "The Black Horse and Famine" in the Angers, France tapestries "The Apocalypse."

Mushrooms appeared in European art in significant numbers around 1500. Some early paintings depict bracket fungi (polypores) on decaying trees or as incidental specimens on the forest floor. An example is by the German Hans Baldung Grien (1484/85-1545). His Three Ages of Man and Three Graces shows polypores (Fomes?) on dead tree. The polypores add a somber touch to the lugubrious scene.

Before leaving the Renaissance, see the playful painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo(1527-1593). He made use of vegetables, fruits, and mushrooms to depict human heads. An example is his Autumn, which uses a gilled mushroom for his ear.

The height of "Mushrooms in Art" was the Baroque period, in the second half of the 17th century when still lifes became a very popular genre. Mushrooms can be frequently found in the company of vegetables and fruits. Such "kitchen" still lifes were most popular in Italy, where the paintings almost invariably depicted edible species, with Amanita caesaria and Boletus edulis far outpacing all others. For an example, see a piece by the Italian Evaristo Baschenis (1617-1677). It shows a "raw," unembellished kitchen scene with dead fowl and a cut of meat, plus a group of about 4 Amanita caesaria.

We do actually not know the name of one of the most mushroom-prolific painters of this period. He is referred to as "Pseudo Fardella" or "Painter of Carlo Torre." Over half of the several hundred paintings attributed to this artist depict mushrooms.

While the Italians were busy with "kitchen still lifes," the Dutch were producing a large number of "forest-floor still lifes," many with mushrooms in natural settings. One of the principal painters of this genre was Otto Marseus van Schrieck, sometimes considered to be the father of this naturalistic style. Van Schrieck often depicted several species of mushrooms in the same corner of the forest, together with snakes, lizard, toads, moths and other "dark" creatures.

For another example of paintings of this period, see a painting by another Dutch, Melchior Hondecoeter's (1636-1695) Birds and Butterflies among Plants. The painter did not seem to want to "improve" on the natural scene and painted a realistic portrayal of the mushrooms. About 5 Psathyrella candolleana are seen in right foreground.

Painters of the 17th century often depicted food stalls and vendors, sometimes showing baskets of mushrooms. For one such scene, see a painting by the Flemish Frans Snyders(1579-1657), Fruit and Vegetable Stall.

Fast forward to the 19th century to see a theme popular among Russian painters, a walk in the forest or people collection mushrooms. For an example, see Ivan Ivanovitch Shishkin's (Schischkin, 1832-1898) Gathering Mushrooms. It depicts four women and a boy with baskets on clearing by a stream. No mushrooms visible.

Mushroom paintings can also be found in the Romantic period. An example is Mushrooms by the British William Nicholson (1872-1949) , showing a plate of Agaricus campestris in various stages of maturity. Again, mushroom gathering was also depicted. See the American/Australian Jane Sutherland's (1853-1928), The Mushroom Gatherers. It shows two women in a field, one with a basket, the other apparently with mushrooms in apron. The mushrooms are not visible.

The registry also includes selected contemporary works.