Caillebotte, Gustave. Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue. Oil on canvas, 1882, Art Institute of Chicago.
I first saw this painting in person at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. It was a very striking painting, but one that I didn’t want to look too closely at or linger over. It’s, frankly, pretty gross. In light of what I’ve read from The Vegetarian, it contrasts meat as we know it, something separate from the animal, with the actual animal. The ox’s tongue doesn’t bring an animal immediately to mind, though it is certainly gross. However, the calf’s head looks like, well, the decapitated head of a poor little baby cow. It really does bring you back into realizing that the food does come from an animal.
Caillebotte did several paintings of raw meat, which I find intriguing. He was known for not depicting anything glamorously; he was an impressionist. He’s the only impressionist I’ve heard of, though, who has painted so much raw meat. I still don’t like looking at the painting for too long, but I like to think that that was the point of his raw meat pieces.