Written by Art Is Essential

Art Is Essential October 2020

Writers on the art that matters to them.

Late Night Snack

Kent Kosack

This past January, I killed a chilly, gray, pre-pandemic Pittsburgh afternoon in the Carnegie Museum of Art. I creaked by the usual suspects, nothing catching my eye until I saw a new exhibit in a small gallery near the stairs, A Delight for the Senses: The Still Life. I’ve never been much interested in still lifes, wary of the name, of any apparent idolization of the static, the stagnant. 

Yet a simple still life drew me in: Late Night Snack by Albert Francis King, circa 1900. A 16-by -22-inch painting with a dark brown background. On the right sits a large wedge of hard cheese, Swiss-like, riddled with holes, and protected by a glass cloche. A ceramic jar of mustard or jam in front of it. In the center, three small cookies or crackers spread out on the table. On the left, two clear beer bottles with swing-top caps. One is open, half its contents recently poured into a glass beside it, a foam head on both. I could almost feel King’s thirst as he painted though the beer must have gone flat long before he finished the still life. The intensity of his gaze and the delicate touch of his brush even caught a glare from a window behind and above him, reflected in the cloche trapping the cheese. 

Eight months later, when I’ve streamed myself into a stupor and seek a late-night snack in the kitchen, stress-eating in my isolation, I remember King’s painting. Remember the beauty he found in the simple array of objects. The fleeting foam. The enclosed cheese. And though I’m no painter, I pause a moment to appreciate the stillness of my composition, a glass of seltzer, a bowl of chips, before sliding back into the solitary stagnation in front of my TV.

Kent Kosack is a writer living in Pittsburgh, PA.

Albert Francis King, or A.F. King, (1854-1945) was known as one of the finest still-life artists in 19th century Pittsburgh, where he was born and lived most of his life. Late Night Snack is in the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

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