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William McCloskey painted this still life in 1919, when citrus fruit was still a rare treat for most of America.

Executive Director of the Irvine Museum, John Stern.

Oranges were almost completely unknown back East. They were only grown in warm climates in the South and mostly in California. So, it is almost as if the artist is painting a still life of some valuable commodity, which indeed they were. It was traditional to give an orange as a present. They were that desirable and that rare and they were presented wrapped up in that soft white paper.

McCloskey and his wife, Alberta, who was also an artist, traveled the country together. Wherever they stopped, they created a sensation as portrait artists. In Los Angeles, they gained a reputation for painting California fruits and flowers in startlingly realistic detail – like the tangerines and tissue paper in this painting.

It was painted in such a way that you would think you were actually looking at a three-dimensional form. There was a lot of attention to detail, close attention to shadows, to light. It was meant to fool your eye into thinking you're actually looking at the oranges. It is not an impressionist technique. There is not a lot of loose brushstroke. It is very tightly drawn, almost photographic.

The couple separated in the late 1800s, but William continued to make his living painting intricate still lifes until his death in 1929 in Orange, California.

The Bowers Museum owns 39 paintings by the McCloskeys —it's the largest assembled collection of their works.

Step15-Untitled Still Life, Tangerines, by William McCloskey, c. 1919

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