The poetics of Impressionism

The poetics of Impressionism


Wine has been flowing into glasses for centuries. If in the previous article of our special on “Wine in Visual Art”, we talked about the Renaissance and Michelangelo’s masterpieces, this time we will take you a few kilometres further, to mid-nineteenth century France, when transalpine Impressionism developed with works by Seurat, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Pissarro, among others.


Impressionism stands for creating an impression. The paintings of mid-nineteenth century French artists depict quick glimpses of emotions and feelings, capturing a single moment in the flow of daily life. The Impressionists did not paint an idealistic reality (like in the Renaissance), but reality filtered through individual artistic sensibilities and expressions. For example, in the painting “Man with a Pipe”, by Paul Cézanne, painted in 1891 and now in the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, we can glimpse a moment taken from daily life.  A man with a moustache is smoking his pipe; he is calm and quiet, with his right elbow resting on the table … and a bottle of wine in the background. According to the poetics of Impressionism, wine is an object of daily life, like any other element. It often appears in the background in moments snatched by artists’ paintbrushes, as we see in Cezanne’s the “Man with a Pipe” but also in his “Card Players”, depicted in 1890. At the time of the painting, however, Cezanne had already partially disavowed his previous impressionistic use of light.

This is one of the most famous paintings of the great artist from Aix-en-Provence: two poker players sit at a table with a nice bottle of wine that acts as a convivial element between the two. Cézanne painted five different versions of this painting (the one we see in the picture is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris), one of which is set, in fact, in a tavern. The intent is to literally display the simple beauty of real life, extracting poetry from its single moments, like the card game between the two middle-aged men. The wine, in the intentions of the artist, takes on a much more central role than it appears at first glance: it is the convivial element par excellence, the symbol (together with the cards) of the friendly and “intimate” relationship between the two protagonists. Like when you are dining with friends and there must be wine on the table.


Another great Impressionist painter, Edouard Manet also paid his tribute to wine in his 1868 “Breakfast in the Studio”. Here an impeccably dressed young student leans on the table where he just has just had lunch, obviously next to a nice bottle of wine. Here, as in Cezanne’s painting, we are invited to observe the daily gestures of a man smoking a cigarette, presumably after enjoying his meal in the company of his young friend. On the left, a woman, presumably the young man’s housekeeper looks straight at us, as if posing.  Here more than ever, Manet’s painting is close to photography, which will develop thanks to the dictates of Impressionism and the need to “capture the moment”. This, together with “carpe diem”, will be the perfect quote for our dinners in the company of the precious nectar.