KERA guest commentator Patricia Mora is a writer living in Dallas who has studied in the U.S. and abroad. During her career, she’s written about art and architecture in a variety of media. She earned a Master’s degree in Humanities and has studied Comparative Religion under Harvard professor Diana Eck. This is the next installment in her series on overlooked masterpieces in local collections.
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William J. McCloskey’s 12 x 16-inch painting Wrapped Oranges is part of the permanent collection of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. If you haven’t seen it, or if you’ve walked past it, you’re missing gorgeousness residing in the room. Upon first glance, this is an everyday image—six stacked oranges. Four are enveloped in white tissue that is either torn or wraps the fruit in a thin veil—and two are plainly depicted. Some display openings that let us see the dimpled surface of the fruit—and, perhaps surprisingly, its suggestion of human skin. It’s this kind of play with disclosure that is especially engaging in this painting—and it’s so beautifully rendered it’s nearly embarrassing.
Wrapped Oranges is a still life. However, in this case, the emphasis is more on “life” than on the state of the subject matter. One tear discloses a remnant of a stem that appears charged with sensuous connotation. It reminds us that the veil separating us from the world is flimsy; it’s torn and rent and we’re invited to peer beyond the exterior of things. The fruit at the top of the piled, triangular shape is ripped and blown. It reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ verses in God’s Grandeur. The poem begins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil …” The tissue in McCloskey’s painting flames out. It pulls us upward, taking us with it in a vertical torrent. McCloskey reveals to us the sheer loveliness of the world we inhabit daily. He shows us that in nature, as the poet Hopkins says, “lives the dearest freshness deep down things …”
The vibrant oranges contrast with a soft, dark-blue background. Their shine and radiance is shown in the gleam of the table upon which they rest. It becomes a meditation of sorts. McCloskey reminds us that Beauty never lives apart from things. And perhaps it’s most spectacular when found in tiny, overlooked mundane places and objects. After all, what‘s more pedestrian than stacked oranges?
But the painting accomplishes the nearly impossible. It shows us the place where the mundane and abject majesty intersect. Even the opposing colors, orange and a deeply rendered blue, show us how strident forces become resolved and transformed into a sublime sheen that’s both restorative and soothing. Put simply, this is the all-consuming blaze for which we all long. It is part of what defines us as human.
To be reminded of that kind of splendor, all that’s required is a trip to the Amon Carter. This painting is a sweet, local secret waiting to be unlocked.