Aubergine, eggplant, brinjal, Solanum melongena – call it what you will – this fascinating plant is an explosion of form and colour. Originally a small fruiting, bitter tasting plant from the Indian sub-continent, thousands of years of cultivation worldwide has produced what we see today, an edible fruit, that we think of as a vegetable, that comes in a continuum of colours (white, green, purple, black) shapes (egg, ball, sausage) and sizes. But it’s hard to beat the glossy deep purple ovoid variety for looks alone.
The genus Solanum is part of the plant family Solanaceae, one of the 413 plant families currently recognised by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, a scientific body that has classified the groupings and relationships between all plants worldwide. Solanaceae also includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, chili peppers, tobacco, deadly nightshade and petunias – making it a rather important group to humans.
The fruit of this plant has been depicted by some great artists, but maybe, as yet, not enough.
Salvador Dali, Still Life with Aubergines, 1922
Pierre Auguste Renoir, Courgettes, Tomates Et Aubergine, 1915
Henri Matisse, Still Life with Aubergines, 1911
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Pitcher and Aubergines, 1893-1894
Julian Opie, Still Life with Aubergines and Cucumber, 2001
© Julian Opie
Mary Fedden, Aubergine and flowers, 1968