A smoker as a subject for a painting has different meanings. Firstly, smoking is the emblem for taste, so depicting a smoker indicates to one of the five senses. Therefore, some paintings of smokers were once part of a series of the five senses.
Smoking is also a more emblematic subject. A pipe smoker stands for somebody who enjoys life, but also indicates a person free of rules. Finally, the pipe directs to the temporary aspect of life.
Seventeenth genre paintings by Brouwer and Van Ostade show farmers smoking. These subjects had great popularity among well to do burgers in the expanding cities of the Golden Age. It reflected the pleasures of unspoiled, simple country life.
In the eighteenth century there is little change. Smoking still is a reference to the taste. A German painting shows a village man, smoking out of a pipe with an extreme large bowl. In front of him we see a roll of tobacco and a knife, the traditional way to cut the tobacco. Het is lighting the pipe with a glowing coal.
Certainly smoking is also depicted in a more luxurious way. A self-portrait of Madame Vigee-Le Brun is a nice example for that. This emancipated lady smokes a clay pipe, in front of her a wooden tray is shown, filled with smokers' paraphernalia.
In nineteenth century painting the diversity of smokers even elarges. Traditional scenes show a peaceful husband smoking at home, the bourgeois using a long clay pipe, the farmer with a stump of a pipe. Also folk situations as the presentation of the bridegroom's pipe are illustrated.
New subjects appear, such as exotism. A nice example is a harem woman smoking from a hookah, elegantly stretched over the floor waiting her master, in the meantime passing time in clouds of smoke.
Illustrations on this page from the collections of Amsterdam Pipe Museum
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