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From Vineyard to Grape Harvest

"L'Automne ou Les Vendanges", Francisco de Goya, 1786/87 - Museo del Prado | De vigne en cuve | Vin et Peinture | Le Musée Virtuel du Vin


Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)

Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain







Upon his arrival in Madrid in 1774 – and up until 1792 – Francisco de Goya designed tapestries for royal palaces. The work was unrewarding, as the finished tapestries, kept behind the closed doors of the workshop, were not for public display. The Grape Harvest or Autumn formed part of the fifth series of tapestry designs destined for the dining room of the palace of the Prince of Asturies – that is, the Palace of Pardo, home of the future Charles IV and his wife, Maria Lousia of Parma. This image represents one of the four seasons. The paintings served as models for the weavers, whose luxurious tapestries included silver and gold thread. The theme of the seasons was often used to decorate Rococo dining halls. Goya made the work his own by converting allegories into bucolic scenes representing different times of year. The harvest is adopted as the symbol of autumn.


Like the rest of the series, this painted model shows Spain as a happy, nonchalant idyll. This was far removed from the image, spread by the Romantics, of Spain as a country of cruel passions and ferocious religion. While the harvest takes place in the background, the vine branches at the feet of the nobleman underline the sensual character of his offering (the real subject of the composition). The peasant girl, outlined against the sky, carries a basket full of grapes on her head: a sort of still life emblematic of the harvest season. Unusually for Goya, this painting’s chief protagonists are not common people.


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4. Vineyards on the slopes of Loessnitz with Dresden in the background.




20. Vineyards with a View of Auvers was painted (oil) in 1890, while the artist was receiving treatment from Doctor Gachet.




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5. In 1888, Renoir’s mistress Aline Charigot, with whom he had three children and who would later become his wife, convinced the artist to explore his birthplace: the village of Essoyes, in the Aube region of Champagne. At this time, the Barrois was a region dominated by so-called still wines (not sparkling or effervescent). The couple bought a house there, and visited every summer for the rest of their lives. Renoir counted many friends among the local vineyard owners – “I liked being with the vignerons because they are generous” – and appreciated the colours of the region and its vines. In 1903, he found more vines at Cagnes-sur-Mer, where he moved in with his family as the climate was thought to be better for his health. In 1907, Renoir acquired the Collettes domain, situated on a hillside to the east of Cagnes. Aline Charigot had a house built there, where Renoir would spend his twilight years from 1908 to 1919.

It was here that Renoir painted this work the moment he moved in. He depicts his wife managing the land, notably the olive trees and vines. In this arid area, the vine is bush-like; the grapes are still (but not for much longer) being grown by layering, without alignment or trellising, growing anarchically. There is little uprooting here: the vines are renewed with provignage, meaning that the shoots are simply laid on the ground until they take root.

7. Bonnard had had vines planted in the garden of his home in Vernon, according to the property’s current owner.


10. In April 1917, the US Congress voted to “recognize the state of war between the United States and Germany”.  US forces arrived in France in June 1917. Along with seven other artists, Harvey Dunn was sent to the Front as an American army correspondent. Their mission was to record the conditions and actions of the Allied troops. Dunn was affected to the 16th Infantry Regiment. On 18th July 1918, the regiment took part in the Battle of Soissonnais, an Allied counter-attack in response to the German “Friedsturn” offensive in the Reims region three days earlier – more commonly known as the Fourth Battle of Champagne. The Allies recovered most of the ground lost to the Germans since late March. The battle was extremely bloody: the Allies lost 125,000 men (including 12,000 Americans), while the Germans lost 168,000. It seems likely that Dunn’s The Devil’s Vineyard is a record of this battle. Although conditions have been hellish, the painting gives off a kind of tragic calm. Soldiers lie on the ground while vine supports hold up a tangled mess of barbed wire and trapped guns.


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2Palazzo Schifanoia, one of the masterpieces of Italian palace architecture, was decorated with a series of allegorical frescoes symbolizing the months.

16. It is in vineyards near La Rochepot, on Côte de Beaune, Burgundy.


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The fruit of a year’s hard labour, the harvest was a key moment that had to be chosen carefully: we “reap what we sow”. It was traditionally a period of celebration.

4. This painting is part of a series depicting The Four Seasons. They are derived from a series first designed by Jacopo Bassano around 1574. The series proved extremely popular and a number of versions were created within the Bassano family workshop. Francesco continued to produce the scenes in the later 1570s and 1580s. In Autumn, the rich abundance of the harvest is illustrated. On the far left of the composition, Moses receives the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. This was a popular iconography during the Renaissance and it was not unusual to include the detail within a larger genre scene such as the harvest.

6. The foreground is dominated by townspeople buying and selling apples and finches and, to the right, a man bringing grapes to be pressed for wine - all autumnal activities.


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1. Turner traveled through Macon in Burgundy during the grape harvest in 1802. This impressive painting supposedly depicts the festival which accompanied the harvest, but is in fact a view of the Thames from Richmond Hill in Surrey.



15.  Van Gogh painted two landscapes featuring vines in oils – The Green Vineyard and Red Vineyards – during his period in Arles, where he lived from February 1888. Van Gogh went South in search of light and colour. On 3rd October, in one of his many letters to him, he told his brother Theo that he had finished the painting: “I have an extraordinary fever for work these days, at present I’m grappling with a landscape with blue sky above an immense green, purple, yellow vine with black and orange shoots. Little figures of ladies with red sunshades, little figures of grape-pickers with their cart further liven it up.” The scene is described in minute detail. The harvest seems to have got off to a good start, although the pace is slow.


16-17. The other vineyard painting, Red Vineyards at Arles, Montmajour, is one of Van Gogh’s best-known works (Find out more >>). Gauguin joined Van Gogh in the South at the end of October. In another letter to Theo, dated 3rd November, Van Gogh recounts a walk to Montmajour and Trébon, several kilometers from Arles and not far from the Fontevielle windmill, which he had taken with Gauguin the weekend before, the 28th October, at sunset: “We saw a red vineyard, completely red like red wine. In the distance it became yellow, and then a green sky with a sun, fields violet and sparkling yellow here and there after the rain in which the setting sun was reflected." The result of this colorful walk? In his letters, Van Gogh is Gauguin’s record-keeper. On the 3rd November, he relates: “At the moment he’s working on some women in a vineyard, entirely from memory, but if he doesn’t spoil it or leave it there unfinished it will be very fine and very strange”. On the 10th November, he announces that “Gauguin has finished his canvas of the women picking grapes”. If Gauguin’s memory of the vineyard’s colours was spot-on, other details are less exact: the women in his painting are wearing headdresses from Brittany! Sardonically, Van Gogh adds: “I haven’t seen the Breton things...” Gauguin describes the painting to Emile Bernard: “The red vines form a triangle. To the right, a Breton woman, from Pouldu, in black. Two women bending over, in blue dresses and black corsages. In the foreground, a little peasant girl with red hair and a green skirt. Thick lines full of colour, the knife laid very thick on the rough canvas. It’s an effect I took from the vines in Arles. I put Bretons in the picture. Not very accurate, but who cares?”

By comparing Van Gogh’s Red Vineyards to Gauguin’s Grape Harvest at Arles (Human Anguish), we can see significant differences in approach and attitude. Gauguin doesn’t give two hoots for reality, explaining that “it’s an effect I took from the vines in Arles… not accurate, but who cares?” His aim is to communicate a lived experience, something he achieves by rearranging the image to juxtapose the Breton figures and the southern vines, transfiguring the landscape. In reality, the harvest in Province had taken place long before the execution of the painting, on the 20th September. There would have been no one in the bare vineyard at the time of painting. The two artists worked from memory and if they were accurate in their representation of the bright reds and yellows of the autumnal vine leaves (typical of the vineyards in late October, after the harvest) they let their imaginations run wild for the rest. These compositions clearly show that some painters tell a story of wine - their own - rather than recounting its history.


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10. Cette peinture monumentale (306 x 840 cm) célèbre la plus emblématique des ressources économiques de Bordeaux et de sa région : la vigne et le vin. Des annotations de la main de l’artiste sur un dessin préparatoire (une gouache sur papier) indiquent le nom des allégories composant cette longue frise de personnages. De gauche à droite sont évoqués :  la joie, la force, l'esprit, l’appel, le vin, les hommes (en bas au centre), l'invitation, les vendanges, la sorcière préparant le feu pour l'alambic, la divine liqueur et enfin l'Alcool. Elle fut réalisée à l’occasion de l’exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels de Paris pour orner la tour de Bordeaux. Elle devait avec trois autres grands décors (L’Agriculture de Jean Despujols, La Forêt landaise de François-Maurice Roganeau, Les Colonies de Marius de Buzon) glorifier les principales ressources économiques de Bordeaux et de sa région. (Source : Musée d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux)


Hiepes Tómas, Landscape with a Vine, ca. 1645 - Prado Museum, Spain.jpg

Le titre de cette œuvre espagnole Paysage avec une vigne (La Paisaje con una vid, Tomás Hiepes, 1645, Musée du Prado, Madrid) est trompeur. En réalité, le Prado nous indique que Hiepes a eu recours à l’un des thèmes les plus fréquents des débuts de la peinture de natures mortes en Espagne : le raisin. Mais au lieu de représenter les grappes seules ou à l’intérieur, il les montre dans leur espace naturel, la vigne, à laquelle elles sont comme suspendues. Ce gros plan sur un pied de vigne bouleverse les catégories en plaçant cette toile apparemment à la fois dans deux genres différents : celui des natures mortes et celui des paysages. Mais la nature morte est comme plaquée sur le paysage situé à l'arrière-pan. Il donne à ce tableau une valeur hautement décorative, à laquelle participe également l'escargot, bien qu'il soit lui placé au premier plan. 

La maîtrise avec laquelle les raisins sont peints corrobore l’éloge que Marcos Antonio de Orellana a dédié au XVIIIe siècle à "une corbeille pleine de raisins, dont les grains diaphanes et transparents, avec leurs branches, pouvaient tromper les oiseaux."

LA CUEILLETTE DES MOULES, Auguste Renoir, 1879 - National Gallery of Art, Washington

This Renoir painting has been often reproduced and copied. It is known by many titles in English and French, all of which evoke the grape harvest. For many years it was displayed in the Washington National Gallery of Art under the title The Vintagers. Upon closer examination, one might wonder where the scene is set, given the astonishing fact that no vines appear in the painting. What was Renoir doing during the 1879 harvest season? He was holidaying less than three kilometres from Berneval, near Dieppe, as a guest of his new friends Marguerite and Paul Bérard at the Chateau de Wargemont, Derchigny-Graincourt. This area had never had vines, even before the arrival of phylloxera! Not only that, but there have been no vines in Normandy since the end of the eighteenth century!

Continuing our research, we learnt that this painting had been lent to the National Gallery of Ottawa (Canada) in 2007 for an exhibition on the landscapes of Renoir. It was displayed under the name The Mussel Harvest – quite a change from its previous title. All became clear: the figures are fishermen climbing up the beach, following a path along one of the ravines that characterize so well this part of the French Normandy coast. This is well corroborated by both the Berneval parish website and Mussel-Fishers at Berneval, which Renoir painted during the

same visit. The fisherwomen’s baskets resemble those in the other painting. Mussel-fishing was one of the area’s primary activities. So why was The Mussel Harvest misnamed for so long? There was probably some confusion (before the purchase of the painting by the American tycoon Adolph Lewisohn in 1921) between the words harvest and harvesters, as these terms can be applied not only to the fields, but also to the vineyards and the sea, depending on the context.


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A pictorial technique similar to that of frescoes or miniatures, illuminations were very popular during the Middle Ages. Done by hand, illuminations decorated or illustrated texts, usually on handwritten manuscripts. Until the 12th century, manuscripts were copied out in religious settings, such as abbeys, where they were used to support prayer and meditation. From the 13th century, private artisans began to produce literature for the secular market. This was due to the greater literacy that had resulted from the growing university and administrative sectors.


Find out more: Wine in Illumination, From Vineyard to Port  >>


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The ‘Muses’ companion’, wine is present across the artistic spectrum, be it in literature, music, decorative or fine arts. Wine is an essential witness to our social and cultural history. Although The Virtual Wine Museum is mainly concerned with painting at present, some examples drawn from other artistic formats permit us to illustrate the universal role of wine, to ‘bear witness’ to it. A few examples from religious art: 1/ Marauders in the Vine*, a 12th-century painted capital in the Romanesque abbatial church of Saint-Pierre de Mozac, Puy-de-Dôme, France. 2/ Libra and September, zodiac calendar, third archivolt on doorway, 1130/35, Autun Cathedral Saint-Lazare, France. 3/ Zodiac and monthly tasks, March, Pruning. Peasant pruning a vine, narthex central tampanum, 1120/30, Vézelay Basilica. 4/ Grape Harvest, one of a series of quatrefoil medallions showing an agrarian calendar connecting the signs of the zodiac with seasonal tasks, left foundation of the Saint-Firmin doorway, 1220/30, Amiens Cathedral, France.

* Marauders in Vineyards (title attributed by INRAP, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives) are shown harvesting grapes that do not belong to them, before the official start of the harvest season.

Find out more: Vine and the Wine in Sculpture  >>

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