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A Little Art History in Those Smokey French Cafés

Smokey French Cafés and Their Impact on Art

Coffee shops.  You know the place. The area where students flee to get work done. A space where anyone can relax, grab a warm mug, and the outside world just seems to melt away. This is how it goes. Yet, historically coffee shops have served for other important movements as well. One example is the impressionist movement. Turns out, coffee shops were not only a place of refuge for busy students, but also for artists! Here’s a brief history:


An escape: 

During the late 1800s in France, the definition of fine art was greatly defined by Salons. Salons were galleries normally facilitated by teachers and students within art academies such as the École des Beaux Arts. Although these institutions were highly esteemed, they often rejected artwork that didn’t seem to fit into the defined canon of art. This made it difficult for independent artists to show their work and limited the variety of artwork that was shown to the public. Due to this exclusivity, artists started meeting in nearby cafés to discuss a new narrative within artwork. 


What was the new narrative? 


One of the most famous results that emerged from cafes was the impressionist movement. This movement focused on abstract forms, impasto, thick brushstrokes, unblended colors, and the reflection of light. They emphasized the deep shadows and bright highlights of color in order to show 3 dimensionality in their work.  This often made their paintings pop and look alive as the swirls of paint made your eyes dance around the canvas. This movement acted against the realism movement and the puzzled previously acclaimed fine artists at the time.  It was unique. The subject of these paintings were different as well. No longer was the focus of art on perfection, but rather on a carefree lifestyle. Cafés, dance halls and theaters were among some of their favorite subjects to paint. The impressionists made activities such as sitting in a coffee shop and enjoying the simplicities of life… an art form! 


Even later, a whole new style of post Impressionism would come out of this movement.  But, it all started with a space. An accepting space to share ideas, techniques, artwork and of course, coffee. 


Worth a Google :) 


1) Café Terrace at Night


Oil on canvas 

Post Impressionism 



 2) Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise, also known as The Rowers’ Lunch, Déjeuner chez Fournaise


Oil on canvas 


3) Édouard Manet

The Café-Concert 


Oil on Canvas 


4) L’Absinthe

Edgar Degas

 between 1875 and 1876

Oil on canvas 




Hey! I'm Maya. I'm a sophomore at Rhodes College, a biology major, and art history minor. I love hiking, cozy sweatshirts, crafting, and stress baking. Catch me boppin' between coffee shops and writing little articles!
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