December 14, 2018

The café as a social crossroad and substitute family

Taddeo Gaddi, Distribution de pain et de vin, 1340-1350 ? Eglise San Martino dei Buonimo, Florence

 

NIGHT CAFE (CAFE DE NUIT)

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) 

1888

Yale University Gallery, New Haven, CT, United States

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo (August 1888): “Today I will probably start on the interior of the inn where I’m lodging...it is what we call a cafe de nuit (they’re common here), which stays open all night. Nighttime wanderers can find a refuge – it’s an asylum – when they don’t have the means to pay for a room or are too drunk to be allowed in.” The cafe is quiet and the harsh gas lighting accentuates the sadness of the setting. Under the eye of the waiter, a couple and a few tired customers kill time, alone, long into the night. Wine and absinthe sit together on the shelf. 

Van Gough added, a month later: “I wanted to show that the cafe is a place where one can destroy oneself, go mad, commit crimes. I did this by using contrasts of soft pinks, reds and crimsons; pale and Veronese greens clash with yellowish and bluish chrome greens, together producing an infernal, sulfurous atmosphere, expressing the shadowy power of an assommoir.” Van Gogh’s expressionism strongly foreshadows the artist’s eventual perdition. Several months later, he succumbed to a spell of madness and attacked Gaugin, who had come to Arles at his invitation. Almost two years later, he would commit suicide almost two years later at Auvers-sur-Oise.

WOMEN ON THE TERRACE OF A CAFE (FEMMES A LA TERRASSE D'UN CAFÉ LE SOIR) Edgar Degas, 1877 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 1
AT CAFE LE BOUCHON (AU CAFÉ LE BOUCHON)
Edouard Manet, 1878/79 - Pushkin Museum, Moscow / 2
NIGHT CAFE AT ARLES, MADAME GINOUX
Paul Gauguin, 1888 - Pushkin Museum, Moscow / 3

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Cafés were born in the century of the Enlightenment. In Paris, “the salons of intelligence and the twin assets of social and intellectual distinction. Wine (still or sparking champagne, Tokay or Rhine valley wine) is rarely drunk here.” Cafés were not depicted by master painters, most of whom still had little interest in genre scenes. From the second half of the 19th century, cafés became more democratic and, under many different names (cabaret, wine merchant, mastroquet), attracted people from every social and professional rank. Anyone could be found in this type of space. A place of light, warmth and sociability, the café became a social melting-pot. Between the café walls, ‘people’ could talk, play, drink and smoke, usually in a kind of sociable anonymity.

 

1/ Cafés and cafés concerts became a central point of urban life. Once more, it was Haussmann’s Paris which gave them this importance, as the large pavements of the boulevards, glowing under gaslights at night, allowed cafés and restaurants to flourish. In his Women on the Terrace of a Cafe in the Evening (Femmes à la terrasse d’un café le soir), Degas portrays “prostitutes, wilted, faded creatures who, sweating vice, cynically go over the events of the day” (Georges Rivière).

 

2/ For many customers, cafés provided a substitute family and a way of killing time, like the drunken woman asleep on her neighbor's shoulder in At Cafe Le Bouchon by Edouard Manet, himself a regular of all sorts of Paris cafés. 

3/ On the 23rd October 1888, Paul Gauguin arrived at Van Gogh’s home in Arles. Night Café at Arles, Madame Ginoux is one of Gaugin’s personal interpretations of Van Gogh’s work. We see none of the desolation apparent in Van Gogh’s version of the scene. The anonymous visitors seem to shrink behind the imposing figure of Madame Ginoux. Gaugin only dealt with the hidden side of life, preferring to paint in a way that appealed to the imagination as he also demonstrates in Grape Harvest at Arles (or Human Anguish). Paul Gaugin shows us “this [very] café that Vincent likes a lot and I somewhat less. I like it when others are there, but I still feel apprehensive. It’s a question of education and such things cannot be undone.” While Gaugin’s painting fails to show the same uninhibited expressionism as that of Van Gogh, it portrays a person sleeping and prostitutes, both typical customers of all-night cafés.

THE WINE MERCHANT LEFRANC, BOULEVARD CLICHY, PARIS
Eero Järnefelt, 1888 - Athenemin Taidemuseo, Helsinki, Finland
THE BIG GLASS
József RippI-Rónai, 1893 - Private collection
MAN WITH A GLASS OF WINE (HOMME AU VERRE DE VIN)
Amedeo Modigliani, 1918 - Private collection / 3
THE DRINKER (LE BUVEUR) Paul Cezanne
1890/1900 - The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, USA / 4
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH A BOTTLE OF WINE
Edward Munch, 1906 - Munch Museum, Oslo, Norvay / 5
AT THE CAFE (AU CAFE)
Leonard Foujita, 1949 - MNAM, Paris / 6
OUTSIDE LE MOULIN (PLEIN AIR)
Ramon Casas, 1890 - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
GOOD WINE (LE BON VIN)
Simon Hollosy, 1884 - Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest, Hungary
THE CARD PLAYERS (LES JOUEURS DE CARTE)
Paul Cezanne, 1892/93 - Qatar's royal family / 9
THE CARD PLAYERS (LES JOUEURS DE CARTE)
Paul Cezanne, 1892/95 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 10
'MANILLE' PLAYERS (JOUEURS DE MANILLE)
José Louis Engel Garry, bef. 1917 - Fine Arts Museum, Libourne, France
HAPPY TIME (PARTIE DE PLAISIR ou CAFE))
Edouard Vuillard, ca. 1898-1899 - Private collection
THE BISTROT or THE WINE SHOP
Edward Hopper, 1909 - Whitney Museum, New York / 13
AT THE LAPIN AGILE (AU LAPIN AGILE)
Picasso, 1905 - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
COMPOSITION Mark Rothko, 1929-1931
Collections of Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko
WOMAN WITH A GLASS OF WINE (FEMME AU VERRE DE VIN)
Bernard Buffet, 1955 - Musée d'art moderne, Paris
A FALL AT CAFE
Jean Helion, 1974 - Private collection
ANGEL GANIVET'S HOPE AND DESPERATION I (ESPOIR ET DESESPOIR D'ANGEL GANIVET I) Eduardo Arroyo, 1977 - Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris

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3 to 6/ Paul Cezanne’s The Drinker, Modigliani’s Man with a Glass of Wine, Léonard Foujita’s At the Café and Edvard Munch’s Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine all represent their protagonists as passive characters. However, if Cezanne’s character gives the impression of balance and tranquillity, that of Munch is weak, isolated and seems indifferent or resigned. He is shown sitting at a table in a ‘claustrophobic’ yet almost-empty café, inhabited by two ghostlike waiters and the outline of an old woman sketched into in the background. Munch takes the same path as Van Gogh – that of Expressionism.

 

9-10/ . In Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players, to be found in the Musée d'Orsay and also in Qatar*, the bottle, on which the light is playing, becomes the central axis of the composition, separating the space into two symmetrical areas and thus highlighting the opposition of the card players. Cezanne used as models peasants whom he had seen on the Jas du Bouffan family estate, near Aix-en-Provence. The two men, in Sunday best, have not taken off their hats. They seem to be frozen and concentrated on their game. Although impossible to identify, the café seems to be of the most basic sort, featuring a wooden table covered with a short tablecloth, ordinary chairs, a simple bottle of wine. Only a mirror on the wall adds to the decor. 

13/ One of Edward Hopper’s ‘Parisian’ paintings, Le Bistro or The Wine Shop, was painted ‘from memory’ in the USA in 1909. It is quite a strange work. We are on the banks of the Seine, not far from a bridge which might be the Pont-Neuf. On the embankment in the left-hand corner, as though in the background, a couple sits at a café table. Who are these characters, what are they saying to each other – are they even speaking? The man turns his back to us. The woman seems bigger and older than him. Are they mother and son, rather than sweethearts or lovers? It is hard to say. Between them, on the round table, are two glasses and a half-empty bottle of red wine. The wine, marked by a ray of light, is less lively in colour than the man’s red flannel belt; he is a worker, a docker – a manual labourer taking a break. The red attracts our attention this scene, which is nevertheless in shadow. (From Le Nouvel Economiste, 27 July 2012).

 Several versions of The Card Players were produced by Cezanne: five copies are conserved at the Musée d'Orsay, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. As for the fifth known copy, it was bought privately by the Qatari royal family for 228 million Euros, making it the most expensive painting in 2012! A sad record, even though the work is magnificent [Editor’s note: This record has been beaten by a work of Gaugin acquired for 265 million Euros, also in Qatar, 2015. And by a work of Leonardo da Vinci acquired for 381 million Euros in 2017, acquired by Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism]. This version and those of the Musée d'Orsay and the Courtauld Institute are the only three to feature wine and just two characters. The Qatar version was finished before that of the Musée d'Orsay, and is two and a half times bigger (97 x 130cm v. 47.5 x 57cm). 

WINE AND THE ARTS: PHOTOGRAPHY

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The Muses’ companion, wine intersects all the arts, whether literature, music, decorative or fine arts. In any case, wine is an irreplaceable witness of our social and cultural history. Although The Virtual Wine Museum is mainly concerned with painting, some examples drawn from other artistic formats allow us to illustrate this reality, to ‘bear witness’ to it. These photographs explore the same theme as this gallery.

Discover Wine and the Arts  >>

BISTROT CLOISONNE, PARIS
Robert Doisneau, 1950
CAFE, JOINVILLE-LE-PONT
Doisneau - Centre Pompidou
COCO, RUE XAVIER PRIVAS
Doisneau, 952
LA MÔME BIJOU, PARIS LA NUIT
Brassai, 1933
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Family Life
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