"l'escargotmeursault", by Robert Leedy, watercolor on Arches 300 lb. Cold Press paper, 18" x 12", commissioned work.

“l’escargotmeursault”, by Robert Leedy, watercolor on Arches 300 lb. Cold Press paper, 18″ x 12″, commissioned work.

I started to warn Tony not to drink this one either. Then I remembered he doesn’t drink white wine. “Maybe if I’m stranded in the desert, I’d consider drinking white wine,” he once said,”but then it would have to be chilled and I don’t think that’s going to be a possibility, given the circumstances…”

A 2012 Louis Latour Meursault on loan for a commissioned painting I am working on. Though it wasn’t a First Growth Bourdeaux from the 70’s, as was the case with the sister painting, “Homage to Mouton, Picasso & Lump”, it was still out of our price range of the relatively inexpensive wines that we sip on after a full day in the studio. Vin de Atelier, I guess, is what you would call our category.

Meursault is a commune (and small town) within the Côte-d’Or in France’s Burgundy region. It’s a fairly small area – about six-and-a-half square miles. Meursault is also the name of the white [and a small amount of red from Pinot Noir grapes] wine made from Chardonnay grapes grown within that area. The Meursault on loan was to be in a still life set up I would photograph to paint from. I thought about ideas, other objects in the painting, backgrounds, etc.: For me, Meusault is all about butter. It is aged on oak though it usually doesn’t suffer from the sometimes overly-oaked big Chardonnays that you might encounter from California and Australia. So, yes, Meursault is a fuller-bodied white wine that needs to be matched with foods that can stand up to it. Food & wine pairing is all about isolating a common ingredient and working from there. When you think of butter, what comes to mind?


Louis Latour is a well-known and established Burgundy negotiant based in Beaune. Their 2012 Meursault went through malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation on the lees) which gives it the richness. The tasting notes from Louis Latour mention aromas of lemon and acacia honey along with a touch of vanilla on the finish – most likely from the oak barrels. It dawned on me today that an old wine buddy from France is now their current President of Maison Latour’s USA operations in San Francisco; I will have to send him this image…

OK, back to the butter question: if you answered popcorn or baked potatoes, you just failed the test.

The first thing that comes to my mind is lobster. Grilled lobster. Perfect match for this noble French Chardonnay! I also thought of butter sauces and the many applications to fish and white meats. But then I thought about the hassle of handling a lobster in a still life – not to mention also the idea of it being under hot lights for a few hours. Fish is a good choice but fish filets in a buttery sauce are not always recognizable for what they are. Then, as I was picking up props in Whole Foods for the shoot and as I passed the seafood section, a great idea hit me: Escargot!

I thought back to the first time Vicky & I moved to Europe: we were living outside of Brussels, Belgium in the commune of Rhode-Saint-Genese – just east of Waterloo; It was 1993 and as Americans, we were blindly figuring our way around living in Northern Europe. One of the really cool things we encountered was the fish monger (in his blue, French bathrobe as I called it) who solicited door-to-door early in the week with a delivery made on every Friday morning. Not only could we order fresh (very fresh) fish…he also sold wild game – venison, duck, quail, boar. His list was phenomenal! The best part was that we could also order cheeses, fresh eggs, and fresh milk – in the bottle! Remember, this was in the early 90’s; I think fresh, delivered-to-your-door milk in the US was a thing of the past by the early 60’s…

He also sold escargot – in the shells. One of my first kitchenware purchases in Europe was a set of escargot plates and shell holders which look sort of like those sadistic-looking gadgets women put false eyelashes on with back in the 60’s…  I think for Americans, escargot is our idea of a staple in French (and Belge) cuisine (though it’s not). Sorry to admit to my friends across the pond but we Americans sort of had this image of Frenchman wearing berets, riding bicycles, carrying baguettes and eating snails – just like my European friends sort of envisioned Americans driving vintage Cadillac convertibles through the desert, dodging wind-blown tumbleweeds and slow armadillos with a fifth of Jack Daniels on the backseat and a Smith & Wesson revolver in the glove compartment.

For my still life, escargot was ideal: a good match for the wine AND a very recognizable object. I imagined the shot as an outdoor dining scene – wine, snails, olives, fresh herbs, butter, bread, cherry peppers, red onion, lemons, fresh flowers, and colander. Colander? Yes, I found a neat mini version in bright orange; nothing related to Meursault nor escargot yet it was a nice shape and a great color. Why not? Though I figure myself a pretty good stylist for these shots, it’s always nice to have a second opinion when I assembled all items. I called Anne, an old friend since junior high school, who lived on the river. Though a Realtor by profession, Anne studied art in school and has a good eye for these things. I arrived and we set up the still life, lights and camera. I initially intended to use a white tablecloth so I could capture good shadows but Anne suggested we use a classic Provençal table cloth she had in her kitchen. I was unsure at first – so much Cobalt Blue – but now I realize it really works well in the painting. To be authentic, I baked the escargot in Anne’s oven and pulled them out hot and very aromatic. For some French connoisseurs, escargot may not be the perfect choice for Meursault but, once again, we had the key ingredient – butter – along with olive oil, garlic, shallots and parsley. I laughed because I couldn’t find my escargot paraphernalia and while at Anne’s we found some cool little forks which could pass as legit but the real faux pas was the use of ice tongs in place of the snail holders. Some serious French cuisine foodie has already written me off as a hack (and I doubt they have read this far!) We made a few object adjustments until we were both happy with the composition. I got my shots. The light that evening was beautiful. I would have preferred waiting closer to sunset but that would have been close to 8:30 pm.  There was a beautiful view of Downtown Jacksonville but I later edited out thinking that I had so much in the scene as it was…

Not to waste the escargot, I offered them to Anne  along with wine that I brought along. Her vegetarian leanings led her to decline on the snails but she accepted the wine invitation. Anne’s mom, Lel, came to the rescue as she interrupted her nightly episode of “Wheel of Fortune” to help me finish them off. Delicious!

Painting Notes:

As you will see in the progressional video below, I broke one of the rules I am always telling my students: Don’t paint through a painting object to object; strive for some sort of unity to carry through. I was painterly within objects but not painterly as a whole. Perhaps this stems from painting from photographic images; however, I was able to balance as I go about the painting – balancing colors, values, shapes, etc. Notice in the progressional how you do see me moving around a bit – not always finishing an object before moving on. So, this lets me off the non-painterly hook somewhat!

I began with the bottle of Meursault. As I always say, dive in and start with the scary stuff first. There were some incredible reflections in the bottle and I was not sure I could pull it off. In the end, I think it works well.

There is a predominance of warm colors which I balance with an asymmetrical use of cool color. I went back through the painting glazing with warm sunlight colors…Naples yellow, Quinacridone Gold along with various pinks & oranges. I could have taken the colors a little more richer but it is so easy to get carried away in a situation such as this so, I left it alone.

Matching the olive oil color was tricky – earlier on, it was either too yellow or too green. If you notice the color of various suppliers of good olive oil, you will see a wide range of color there as well.

The painting has a nice vibrant sense and use of color. It will go very nicely with its companion piece, “Homage to Mouton, Picasso & Lump”.

One more to go in the series!

watch the painting in progress below…

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