Raymond Mason’s work, The departure of the fruit and vegetables from the heart of Paris on the 28th February 1969, sits in a nook of Saint-Eustache Church, bordering the location of Paris’s departed central food market, Les Halles. The departure of the market tore the soul out of this district of Paris. Many social problems, drugs, disease, and poverty followed. St. Eustache has been a place of refuge since.
In 1968 Mason heard of the 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.’
John Berger has an essay about the sculpture in The Shape of a Pocket, which I am reading at the moment. Berger writes:
Look at the guy with a cauliflower and his mate with a Swiss chard under his arm, and the bloke with a big nose holding up a case of oranges as if it were a chalice, and the black kid with a cabbage, and the woman with a pom-pom hat and cherry lips who is carrying a case of Starking apples which press against her bosom, and the man pulling a wagon, and the tomato which has squashed. I look and say to myself: I’ve seen saints in churches and Madonnas and martyrs and the saved a nd the damned, but I’ve never seen people straight off the street except when they’re sitting in pews, and here they have a chapel to themselves and have been made sacred! (They themselves wouldn’t believe it. Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on it, they’d say.) Made sacred not by the company of the surrounding saints, nor by the buried generals in their sarcophagi, but by the tenderness of an artist who rememebered them with love, and re-created them indefatigably.
Berger acclaims three masterpieces by Mason: Departure of Fruit and Vegetables, A Tragedy in the North – inspired by a mining disaster in Lievin – and The Grape Pickers at Vezelay.
A Tragedy in the North: Winter, Rain and Tears
Raymond Mason grew up in Birmingham. In June 1991 his work Forward! was unveiled in the centre of the new Centenary Square in Birmingham. Cast in fiberglass resin, it represented the march of Birmingham from its industrial past into the future. It was a work of art that repaid close attention. Figures included Joseph Chamberlain with his monocle and Josiah Mason, founder of the University, with an armful of books. The Lady of the Arts, from the city’s coat of arms, blew a kiss to the past, while an actress curtsied to the Repertory Theatre. The formula on the shoulder of the leading figure referred to DNA, representing the continuing advance of scientific discovery. The Birmingham-educated scientist, Maurice Wilkins, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for work on DNA. At lunchtime on 17 April 2003, the statue was irreparably damaged by fire. It was later removed.
- The Departure of Fruit and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris, 28 February 1969: Tate commentary
- BBC news story on the arson attack on Forward!