At the National Gallery

Peter Campbell

One’s feelings about having one’s appetite tickled by pictures depicting food are at best ambivalent. Willem Kalf’s mid-17th-century painting in the National Gallery of a lobster, cooked to a brilliant scarlet and accompanied by glasses of wine, bread, a peeled lemon and an elaborate silver-mounted drinking horn – the original horn is in a museum in Holland – is perfect in its detail. But the insistent surfaces, the glitter of the crustacean’s shell and the luxury of it and its trappings, are so meticulously described that you can feel, as you can looking at the perfect photographs in a recipe book, that it is too good to be true. This is a pin-up of a lobster. It may look lovely, but it’s not really meant to be eaten. It rouses only to disappoint.

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