The cafe as a social crossroad and substitute family

Night Cafe (Café de nuit), Van Gogh, 1888 - Yale University Gallery, New Haven, United States | Cafes | Everyday Companion | From Drinking to Savoir-boire | Wine and Painting | The Virtual Wine Museum

 

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.

19TH CENTURY

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) - Unachieved
Edouard Manet, 1878/79 - Pushkin Museum, Moscow / 2
PÈRE FOURNAISE
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1877 - The Clark Art Institute, Williamstone, MA, United States
AT CAFE (AU CAFÉ)
Gustave Caillebotte, 1880 - Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, France
NIGHT CAFE AT ARLES, MADAME GINOUX
Paul Gauguin, 1888 - Pushkin Museum, Moscow / 5
THE WINE MERCHANT LEFRANC, BOULEVARD CLICHY, PARIS
Eero Järnefelt, 1888 - Athenemin Taidemuseo, Helsinki, Finland
THE BIG GLASS
József Rippl-Rónai, 1893 - Private Collection
GOOD WINE
Simon Hollosy, 1884 - Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest, Hungary
AT CAFE RICHE
Jean-Louis Forain, 1894 - Private Collection / 9
OUTSIDE FF DOORS
Ramon Casas, 1890 - Museu Nacional d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona, Sapin
THE DRINKER (LE BUVEUR) Paul Cezanne
1890/1900 - The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, USA / 11
THE CARD PLAYERS (LES JOUEURS DE CARTE)
Paul Cezanne, 1892/93 - Qatar's royal family / 12
THE CARD PLAYERS (LES JOUEURS DE CARTE)
Paul Cezanne, 1892/95 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 13
CAFE SCENE (SCÈNE AU CAFÉ)
Edouard Vuillard, 1899 - Neue Pinakotek, Munich, Germany
HAPPY TIME (PARTIE DE PLAISIR or CAFE))
Edouard Vuillard, ca. 1898-1899 - Private collection

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Cafes 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.” Cafes were not depicted by master painters, most of whom still had little interest in genre scenes. From the second half of the 19th century, cafes 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 cafe became a social melting-pot. Between the cafe walls, ‘people’ could talk, play, drink and smoke, usually in a kind of sociable anonymity.

 

1. Cafes and cafes 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.

5. 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.

9. Dining scenes were a recurrent theme for the artists of the so-called ‘Belle Époque’. All appear to have turned their hand to cafe or restaurant scenes. Whether joyful or miserable, provocative or tipsy, full or hungry: all such slices of life have been dealt with in creative ways. Most striking among these seated couples is their air of solitude. They may be together physically, but their eyes never meet; each is in his or her own world, where the other counts for nothing or – at most – only for what they stand to benefit their partner. Here, two stories play out silently; the empty space between the tables creates a frontier. To the left, a fat, lascivious-looking man, replete from his meal, waits for his bill; to the right, the thin and hungry-looking ‘lorette’ (cheap woman) half-heartedly waits for someone to invite her to dinner. (Editor’s note: perhaps she is glowering at her neighbour)... ‘Le Riche’ was a large Boulevard cafe-restaurant. Men and women of letters, journalists and editors, painters and musicians – all sorts of bright young things frequented such places. If their evening gatherings ever took a risqué turn, there were small private salons upstairs” (Source: Beaussant Lefèvre auction catalogue).

 

11. Cézanne’s figure is the only one that gives the impression of balance and tranquillity.

 

12-13. 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 cafe 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. 

 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).

20TH CENTURY

TWO WOMEN AT A BAR (DEUX FEMMES AU BAR)
Pablo Picasso, 1902 - Hiroshima Museum of Art, Japon
THE BISTRO or THE WINE SHOP
Edward Hopper, 1909 - Whitney Museum, New York / 2
'MANILLE' PLAYERS (JOUEURS DE MANILLE)
José Louis Engel Garry, bef. 1917 - Fine Arts Museum, Libourne, France
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH A BOTTLE OF WINE
Edward Munch, 1906 - Munch Museum, Oslo, Norvay / 4
TAVERN
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1908 - Saint Louis Art Museum, MO, United States
WINE BAR
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 1913 - Brücke-Museum, Berlin, Germany
CAFE, 1915
Georges Grosz, 1915 - National Museum of American History, Washington / 7
AT CAFE
George Grosz, 1922 - Private collection
SELF-PORTRAI WITH CHAMPAGNE GLASS
Max Beckmann, 1919 - Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany
THE CAFE TERRACE (LA TERRASSE)
Ossip Zadkine, 1920 - Private collection
AT CAFE (AU CAFÉ)
Ossip Zadkine, 1921 -Nash collection, London / 11
THE GUITAR PLAYER (LE JOUEUR DE GUITARE)
Ossip Zadkine, 1920 - Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris
MAN WITH A GLASS OF WINE (HOMME AU VERRE DE VIN)
Amedeo Modigliani, 1918 - Private collection / 13
CAFE TERRACE (LA TERRASSE DE CAFÉ)
Raoul Dufy, 1904 - Pompidou Center, Paris
PETIT POUCET CAFE (LE CAFÉ AU PETIT POUCET)
Pierre Bonnard, 1928 - Pompidou Center, Paris
COMPOSITION
Mark Rothko, 1929-1931 - Collections of Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko
AT CAFE (AU CAFÉ)
Léonard Foujita, 1949 - Pompidou Center, Paris
WOMAN WITH A GLASS OF WINE (FEMME AU VERRE DE VIN)
Bernard Buffet, 1955 - Private collection?
FALL IN A CAFE (CHUTE AU CAFÉ)
Jean Helion, 1974 - Private collection
ANGEL GANIVET'S HOPE AND DESPAIR (ESPOIR ET DÉSESPOIR D'ANGEL GANIVET) Eduardo Arroyo, 1977 - Musée d'art moderne, Paris

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2. One of Edward Hopper’s ‘Parisian’ paintings, Le Bistro or The Wine Shop, was painted ‘from memory’ in the USA in 1909. We are on the banks of the Seine, not far from a bridge which might be the Pont-Neuf. 

4. Edvard Munch is weak, isolated and seems indifferent or resigned. He is shown sitting at a table in a ‘claustrophobic’ yet almost-empty cafe, 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.

7. The wartime viewpoint of a painter already Dadaist, anti-bourgeois and provocative. 

11. Probably one of the Montparnasse cafes that Zadkine frequented with Modigliani – perhaps the smoky world of La Rotonde, where painters, musicians and poets mixed.

13. Modigliani liked to record his friends’ faces: he had been the portrait-painter of tout-Montparnasse. Pavement cafes were a central part of his daily life, where he procured both models and the drunkenness necessary for each new burst of inspiration.

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.

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COMPARTMENTALIZED BISTROT, PARIS
COMPARTMENTALIZED BISTROT, PARIS
Robert Doisneau, 1950
CAFE, JOINVILLE-LE-PONT
CAFE, JOINVILLE-LE-PONT, CLOSE TO PARIS
Doisneau - Pompidou Center
COCO, XAVIER PRIVAS STREET, PARIS
COCO, XAVIER PRIVAS STREET, PARIS
Doisneau, 1952
'LA MÔME' BIJOU, PARIS BY NIGHT
'LA MÔME' BIJOU, PARIS BY NIGHT
Brassai, 1933
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