GUEST BLOG / By William H. Ukers, author of “All About Coffee, 1922 brought to the public domain by Project Gutenberg.
In Ukers masterwork, he devotes Chapter 33 to “Coffee in Relation to the Fine Arts,” which is the inspiration for this particular blog post.
“...Coffee has inspired the imagination of many poets, musicians, and painters. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries those whose genius was dedicated to the fine arts seem to have fallen under its spell and to have produced much of great beauty that has endured. To the painters, engravers, and caricaturists of that period we are particularly indebted for pictures that have added greatly to our knowledge of early coffee customs and manners.
“In the Louvre Museum at Paris hangs the "Petit Déjeuner" by François Boucher (1703–1770), famous court painter of Louis XV. It shows a French breakfast-room of the period of 1744, and is interesting because it illustrates the introduction of coffee into the home; it shows also the coffee service of the time...”
Comments on Boucher’s work from the Louvre’s website:
“...According to some commentators, this glimpse of domestic happiness portrays the artist's own family. An invaluable testimony to lifestyle at the time of Louis XV, the picture shows a rocaille interior complete with wall lamps, elaborate wall clock, exotic Chinese statuette, and indulgence in the current coffee craze.
A family portrait?
One of Boucher's rare excursions into the interior genre, this work has sometimes been interpreted as a family scene, with Madame Boucher seated on the right, their children, and on the left the painter's sister feeding the little girl. In an elegant sitting room the family is seen taking coffee, the latest luxury import. The relationships between the figures, the exchange of looks, and the little girl turning towards the viewer express a striving for simplicity and real intimacy. This was a time when approaches to raising children were changing and toys were being made for them: the girl, wearing a protective headband, holds a wooden horse and has a doll at her feet.
A rococo interior
Bursting with freshness and grace, this painting details a way of life less solemn than Chardin's. The painter of happiness is bent on telling all: he shows furniture, diverse objects, silk garments, and lacework in a way that echoes his varied fields of activity. As an ornamenter, for example, Boucher fitted out a number of royal residences; as a decorator/designer he worked for the theater and the opera, and created many tapestry designs for the royal manufactories at Beauvais and Les Gobelins. With its delicate blues, greens, ochres, and reds, this interior is suffused with a soft glow reflected in the richly gilded woodwork.
A Northern School view of the everyday
During the period 1739-46, this painter of mythological trysts extended his range to genre scenes influenced by the 17th-century Dutch masters and, most directly, by Jean-François de Troy. What he offers here is a view of the everyday - a moment of the simple happiness family life can bring.
COUNTER POINT. Let’s skip forward from a 1744 painting depicting the home of Louis XV’s palace painter to a modern day Everyman’s “petit dejeuner” at Café Azimut in La Pocatiere, Quebec, where this breakfast (in Euros no less) is served daily from 9 am to 10:30 am.