From 16th century Flemish paintings to Yeah Yeah Yeahs album art, here are the best yolk-filled moments in Western art
As a website focused on breakfast, it’s no secret that we love egg iconography. Rarely do eggs in art ever only symbolize the breakfast food. They’re used to talk about life and the loss of innocence and, in some cultures, they signify luck or wealth. These days, it feels like eggs are everywhere in art (they’re even used literally in art conservation; tempera aka egg wash mixed with pigment is a Renaissance-era technique still upheld today). But were egg motifs always part of the canon? To find out, we culled together a timeline of the most wonderful, yolkiest works from art history. Due to time and length restraints, the geographical scope here is relatively narrow and the selections only come from Western art.
Concert in the Egg, 1510-15
While there were egg moments before 1500 BCE, Concert in the Egg is when eggs in art start to get really kooky. For fans of Hieronymus Bosch’s iconic The Garden of Earthly Delights (which, by the way, also has some good eggs), this painting is another Flemish must-see. Concert in the Egg was once considered by scholars to be a long lost Bosch painting. In recent years, however, it’s been attributed to Gielis Panhadel, who was greatly inspired by Bosch’s egg work. The scene in Concert in the Egg is exactly what it sounds like: musicians gather inside an egg shell for a concert. There’s a lot happening here, allegorically: a man wears a funnel as a hat, another sticks a spoon inside a clock, and a mysterious hand breaks through the bottom of the shell. But scholars have put the most emphasis on the peasant character who is so entranced by the music that he doesn’t notice he’s being pickpocketed. For me, this painting just makes me wonder about egg acoustics.
Merry Makers at Shrovetide, 1616-17
Frans Hals was a 17th century Dutch painter known for group portraiture (and a really sick mustache). Here, he depicts Shrovetide, the celebration period before Lent that we now call Mardi Gras. What’s most interesting here is the garland of salted fish and eggs. While the necklace is really giving me some great DIY fashion ideas, it’s meant to be some sort of sexual innuendo. What if egg necklaces were an old flirting technique? Damn, a girl can wish.
Broken Eggs, 1756
In this painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, a girl sits sullen in the corner, feeling ashamed. Her basket of eggs has broken, and her family is angry about it. The broken eggs are meant to represent the loss of her virginity. Her brother in the corner there is trying to repair the broken pieces because he is still innocent. This is one of the more heavy-handed egg images in this list, but it’s kind of extra and I love it. You can almost smell the sexual repression.
Oeufs sur le Plat sans le Plat, 1932
We’re jumping ahead in our timeline, but honestly I was disappointed by 19th century egg imagery. The art world’s most well-known lover of eggs is Salvador Dalí (who, yes, also had an amazing mustache). Not only is the motif littered throughout his surrealist paintings, but at the Dalí Theatre and Museum in Spain egg-shaped spires punctuate the building. Originally Dalí used eggs like most of his predecessors—to connote something erotic. But in his later years, eggs came to mean the rebirth of his art and his new vision for his painting. And while today it’s almost cliche to see fried eggs in art, to me, Oeufs sur le Plat sans le Plat is Dalí’s most important breakfast-related painting because it’s one of the first times we see fried eggs in art as opposed to the whole white orb.
Sculpture in the Form of a Fried Egg, 1966-71, and Raw Egg Costume, 1974
Bridging the gap between painting and sculpture, Claes Oldenburg is considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century for his interest in everyday objects and food. Eggs factor into many of his works, including False Food Selection and Fried Eggs Under Cover, but one of my favorites is his Sculpture in the Form of a Fried Egg. Inspired by Oldenburg, two lesser-known artists, Carole Itter and Taki Bluesinger, created a similar version, which is my favorite egg artwork of all time. Their 1974 Raw Egg Costume factored into many of the Vancouver-based artists’ performances and inspired my own Halloween looks in year’s past.
In direct response to the political landscape of the era, artists Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro formed the first ever feminist art program at CalArts. During this time they worked on Womanhouse, an immersive art show staged throughout a home. The kitchen was designed by the artist Vicki Hodgetts and featured fried eggs meant to look like breasts tacked to the wall. It is of course a commentary on “a woman’s place is in the kitchen.” In recent years, Christopher Chiappa has put on many gallery shows with eggs attached to the walls which seem eerily reminiscent of this seminal work of modern feminist art.
Self Portrait with Fried Eggs, 1996
Sarah Lucas has been using eggs in her work for over 30 years and can be credited, at least in recent memory, with making fried eggs cool. One Thousand Eggs “For Women” is a traveling performance inspired by Easter egg tosses that encourages visitors to throw eggs against a wall. But her most well-known egg piece is her self-portrait with fried eggs as breasts, which is meant to subvert notions of femininity through her defiant stance. You can see both pieces at this year’s survey of Lucas’ work at the New Museum in New York.
It's Blitz, 2009
This Yeah Yeah Yeah’s album cover of a hand squashing an egg has the same pulsating angst of one of the band’s best songs, “Heads Will Roll.” The cover was designed by conceptual artist Urs Fishcer, who has photographed eggs many times since.
Toilet Paper Magazine, 2010
Toilet Paper is a bi-annual satirical art magazine created by Maurizio Cattelan and his photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari. Cattelan has been considered an art-world jokester since picking up art in the 1960s, with many of his sculptures poking fun at religion and other elements of culture. Lately he’s been focusing on Toilet Paper and his amazing OkCupid ads. This picnic photograph from the magazine brings to mind Sarah Lucas and Womanhouse, while its surrealist elements reference Dalí.
Purple Fried Egg on Purple Shirt, 2013
While Hokkaido-born Soshiro Matsubara is the least known artist on this list, I’ve been obsessed with this photo. To make it, he added acrylic paint to eggs. One might argue it even helped usher in Pantone’s announcement of “Radiant Orchid” as the Color of the Year in 2014. It represents the ongoing playful legacy of eggs in art and, in the age of Instagram, a beloved image that has since gone viral.