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Tobacco in painting. A brief look back in time.

Posted by on 1/7/2021
Tobacco in painting. A brief look back in time.

Tobacco arrived in Europe from the New World in the middle of the 15th century and since then it has been present in the work of many painters. Although its presence was generalized in painting in the last third of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, when its consumption became popular, the Dutch and Flemish costumbrist painters were the first to make tobacco and its uses a pictorial theme, to the point that some cultural historians grant tobacco the status of a subgenre within the Costumbrista Movement.

The first paintings by this group of artists, with motifs associated with tobacco, date back to the 17th century, and in most of them smokers are represented using a pipe, which was the most frequent form of consumption. The themes show, in general, closed spaces such as restaurants, taverns or domestic rooms where one or more men are smoking pipes while they carry out daily activities such as reading, drinking or talking by the fire, in what could be considered a kind of “ritual of the tobacco".

From the end of the 19th century they are the well-known Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe (1889), by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gohg; an oil painting on canvas made in 1891 by the Frenchman Paul Cézanne, known as the Pipe Smoker (or The Smoker), which is kept in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

Later, it is the cigarette that begins to appear in the pictorial work worldwide. An example of this is the Self-Portrait with Cigarette (1895) by the Norwegian Edvard Munch, the famous author of The Scream who, in a high-quality portrait that can be seen in the National Gallery of Norway, shows himself smoking with the lower part of his body blurred by smoke.

Recognized 20th century pictorial movements, such as Cubism and Pop Art, assign tobacco, pipes or cigarettes a prominent place in their artistic work. In the 1920s and 1930s, when Art Deco - a trend that defended the beauty of everyday objects - began to gain space, the tobacco industry attracted customers with illustrated boxes, tissue paper interiors and elegant advertisements. In this way, the theme also proliferated in the lithographic industry of the time and posters, advertisements, photos, drawings and other tobacco collectibles were designed and printed.

In essence, art as a cultural expression that reproduces customs and habits of a lifestyle.


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