Drunks or Connoisseurs?

THE SENSES OF HEARING, TOUCH, AND TASTE (detail)

Jan Bruegel the Elder (1568-1625)

1618

Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

From cheerful inebriety to all-out drunkenness, some artists have used wine to convey a message: from the 15th to the 17th century, to condemn wine-drinking in the name of morality; in the 18th century, to celebrate or denounce the lifestyles of the social elite; and in the 19th century, to remind us that drunkenness can lead to alcoholism.


At the other end of the spectrum, the concept of ‘good taste’ was reinvented and the end of the 17th century. The few paintings which represent the pleasure of wine connoisseurs were produced in the 18th century. ‘Good taste’ was no longer the preserve of the aristocracy, but could also be enjoyed by the bourgeoisie. Connoisseurs would taste different wines, exchanging their impressions and searching for the right words to describe its color and aroma.

THE RAKE'S PROGRESS III: ORGY  

William Hogarth (1697-1764)

1732/35
Sir John Soane's Museum, London

  

In the third image of the series The Rake’s Progress, William Hogarth presents a typical libertine: Tom, an incorrigible country rake who comes to London to spend his inheritance. At three o’clock in the morning, we find him in a tavern-come-brothel, the Rose Tavern on Drury Lane, near Covent Garden. In the midst of the orgy, Tom seems exhausted and ridiculous. “Foreign wines” have left him as drunk as a lord. A syphilitic prostitute takes advantage of his altered state to slip her hand inside his shirt, pulling out his pocket watch to show to her friends. Around the table, from left to right, two prostitutes take turns to spit; a servant carries a candle and a large tray, which will serve as a stage for the woman taking off her clothes... 

 

 Find out more: Gallery Drunkenness  >>

THE WINE DRINKERS (LES BUVEURS DE VIN or LE POETE PIRON AVEC SES AMIS)  

Jacques Autreau (1657-1745)

ca. 1729-1732
Musée du Louvre, Paris

  

These wine drinkers show a happy trio. From left to right: Alexis Piron, poet, and his friends, the singer Charles Collet and the playwright Pierre Gallet. They are dining (today, this meal would be lunch) in the basement of the Caveau, a cabaret on the corner of the rue de Bussi and the rue Dauphine, in the Paris neighborhood of St-Germain. Although some believe that Piron and his friends are drinking champagne in this painting, this is actually unlikely. Alexis Piron was born in Dijon in 1689, and he didn’t leave the Burgundy region until the age of 30 (Piron was elected to the Académie de Dijon in 1762). We also know that the Parisian wine cellars favoured Burgundy wines. Not to forget that Piron was often short of money and champagne – four times the price of Burgundy wine – would have been out of his budget. Let’s imagine the scene...

 

Find out more: Gallery Savoir-boire  >>

COLLECTION FROM DRINKING TO SAVOIR-BOIRE

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