The Departure of Fruit and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris, 28 February 1969 1969-1971
Epoxy resin and acrylic
unconfirmed: 3080 x 3150 x 1355 mm
Lent by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of William Louis-Dreyfus 2001
Raymond Mason was originally a painter but turned to sculpture after becoming dissatisfied with the two-dimensional medium. He was drawn to sculpture because he considered it to be 'more real, more physically present.' (Quoted in Nadelman 1985, p.2.) At first he made coloured abstract sculpture. However, in 1946 he moved from London to Paris and, under Alberto Giacometti's (1901-1966) influence, began making monochrome figurative work. Discussing the change in direction, Mason noted: 'When I met Giacometti … I was already bored with stiff abstraction, the self-invented forms. I was only too glad to move towards the whole human condition.' (Quoted in Nadelman 1985, p.1.)
Mason was drawn to the crowd and the everyday bustle of urban existence. He sought to 'exalt … humble folk' and 'the world immediately surrounding me and which I know.' (Mason quoted in Peppiatt 2000, p.15.) For instance in Barcelona Tram 1953 (Tate T03678), a small, high relief bronze frieze, Mason explores the dynamism and energy of city life. People loiter on the pavement and others board a crowded tram, in which the passengers peer through the windows. Many of the figures are nearly three-dimensional and cast deep shadows that enhance the drama of the scene. Mason sculpts the figures before an architectural backdrop, thus exploring the interconnectedness of people and place, a theme which he would continue to develop for the rest of his career.
In 1968 Mason heard of the French President, George Pompidou's (1911-1974) plan to close Les Halles, Paris's central market. Long drawn to the commotion and sensuous beauty of markets, Mason decided to commemorate the passing of an irreplaceable part of Parisian history. He saw Les Halles as a place of 'joy' where the 'wonders of nature' were displayed. Now a 'paradise lost', its closure symbolised the departure of the 'man of the Middle Ages …We will never see a face like his again. We will never again see his kind.' (All quotes from Mason 1971, p.1.)
The Departure of Fruit and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris, 28 February 1969 is a large layered narrative sculpture that resembles an altarpiece. It depicts a procession of trades people leaving Les Halles for the last time. The highly individualised figures verge on caricature. They carry a luxuriant abundance of fruit and vegetables, as if they were religious offerings. The scene has the air of a colourful, chaotic pageant, but also suggests a funeral cortège, with mourners being led out of the tableau and into the gallery space by a man pulling a cart laden with produce. The scene takes place at night under the bright glare of electric light and is witnessed by the towering form of St. Eustace, the church in whose shadow the market had been held for hundreds of years.
Mason worked on the sculpture between 1969 and 1971. He rented a studio in the area and started by making numerous pen and ink drawings and watercolour studies of the market. Mason had abandoned bronze casting after working on The Crowd 1963-68 (Jardin des Tuileries, Paris) as he found it too time consuming. For The Departure of Fruit and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris, 28 February he used a faster technique; working in plaster which was then cast in epoxy resin, a white substance that could be painted when dry. He then made each of the figures individually and applied vibrant, clashing colours before assembling the whole. The work fused his painterly and sculptural interests and he saw it as 'three-dimensional fresco', believing colour made the sculpture more 'warmly human' (quoted in Nadelman 1985, p.2) and thus immediate and accessible to all.
The Departure of Fruit and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris, 28 February 1969 is reminiscent of a diorama or a large scale nativity scene. It can be placed in the tradition of Hogarth and the English narrative genre scene. Like his predecessors, Mason celebrates the dynamism and chaos of the everyday, seeking to communicate 'the commotion, the emotion' and 'the torrent' of human life (quoted in Peppiatt 2000, p.18).
Raymond Mason, The Departure of Fruit and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris, 28 February 1969, exhibition catalogue, Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York 1971, reproduced pp.12-13
Michael Peppiatt, Raymond Mason, exhibition catalogue, Musée Maillol, Paris 2000, reproduced (colour) p.64
Cynthia Nadelman, Raymond Mason, exhibition catalogue, Marlborough Fine Art, London 1985, reproduced (colour) pp.20-21
Michael Edwards, Raymond Mason, London 1994, reproduced (colour) p.98-99