Cannabis

20 paintings from the Golden Age of stoner art- Alchimia Grow Shop

The criminalisation and stigmatisation of cannabis is a peculiar twist in the latest stage of humanity’s long association with this plant because, for most of our history, cultures around the world have embraced it, and as early civilisations discovered its industrial, psychoactive and medicinal uses, they paid homage to it in their works of art.

It is not known exactly when cannabis began to be smoked recreationally, but until the invention of rolling papers, cannabis was often smoked using a pipe, as for thousands of years this was the most common tool to burn weed, hashish (or any other consciousness-altering herb) and inhale the smoke more efficiently.

The oldest known pipes have been found in a tomb in what is now Laos. They are about 3,000 years old and were most likely used for smoking cannabis. In southern and western Africa, marijuana was also burned in small covered pits and the smoke was then inhaled through hollow canes.

More famous is the so-called hookah, a water pipe that originated in Persia and was widely used from the early 17th century onwards in South Asia and the Middle East. However, the habit of smoking hashish began to spread throughout the Middle East much earlier, from the 900s onwards, as the consumption of alcohol was forbidden by the Koran. The Muslim population in Europe used cannabis as a recreational drug during the Middle Ages when the spread of Sufism influenced the Muslim world.

‘A Voluptuous Smoke’ by Charles Edouard Edmond Delort, 1800

For example, in Morocco, quif or kif (a mixture of two-thirds cannabis and one-third tobacco) was traditionally smoked in a sesbi, a long, thin pipe with a wooden handle and a clay bowl. Thanks to its long handle, the smoke is cooled before it is inhaled.

‘Kif Smoker’, by Emilio Sala Frances, 1876
‘Kif Smoker’, by Emilio Sala Frances, 1876

Not long after Columbus discovered America in 1492, Europe came into contact with the habit of smoking tobacco in ceremonial pipes, a plant considered sacred by many indigenous cultures in the Americas. Before long, Europeans began experimenting with the aim of improving the taste of tobacco and enhancing the pleasure of smoking. One experiment was to add herbs to tobacco, for example, hemp, a plant that was cheap and readily available, as it was grown for both domestic and industrial purposes. Hemp was cultivated in large quantities across the continent – indeed, many kingdoms depended on it to provide the fibre needed for the ropes and sails for the expanding naval fleets of the various empires.

Sailors, soldiers and artists spread the custom of smoking hemp and tobacco, which became a popular pastime among all ranks and classes. The old masters of painting depicted these everyday pleasures of life with great expressiveness and time and again painted figures enjoying their pipes in taverns and smoking rooms, the ‘coffeeshops’ of this economic boom period for the superpower that was Europe.

Thus, the first appearance of cannabis smokers in modern pictorial representations is related to 17th-century Flemish painting, the so-called Dutch Golden Age painting or Dutch Baroque painting. Historians consider that the Dutch devoted almost a sub-genre to tobacco (alone or mixed with hemp) within costumbrist or genre painting. Scenes called ‘merry company’ were very much in vogue during this century, depicting groups of men and women sitting around a table, drinking, smoking and playing musical instruments. These scenes were intended to illustrate excesses and, as the intended viewers were well aware, concealed a sense of moral condemnation.

Social morphology shows us that it is mainly the working classes who are portrayed while smoking as the object and subject of the painting. Among the examples you will see below, great merchants or urban patricians appear less frequently, although there are painters who did portray them, which may mean that, at the time when consumption was considered a vice, they did not smoke or were not depicted smoking. However, we do find the artists themselves.

To be precise, in the Netherlands, the history of smoking cannabis dates back to this period, as can be clearly seen in this painting. A man seated on a stool holds a mug of beer in his right hand and a pipe in the other while exhaling smoke through his mouth. His eyes are wide open and he looks astonished as if the effect of the substance he is smoking has taken him by surprise.

The Smokers', Adriaen Brouwer, 1636. Despite his premature death just two years later, Brouwer's talent and skill for human comedy earned him the esteem of his fellow artists.
‘The Smokers’, Adriaen Brouwer, 1636. Despite his premature death just two years later, Brouwer’s talent and skill for human comedy earned him the esteem of his fellow artists.

He is the painter Adriaen Brouwer (1606-1638), one of the most influential Flemish artists in genre painting, who earned his fame through his scenes of peasant life, tavern interiors and expressive portraits, and who was also known for his fondness for beer and smoking like a chimney. To his right is his friend, the artist Jan de Heem (1606-1684), who specialised in still-life painting. Three other figures keep them company, while the man on the left is holding one nostril and blowing smoke out of the other.

In Brouwer’s time, people who smoked were called ‘toeback-drinckers’ (tobacco drinkers). They smoked tobacco, often mixed with hemp, in Gouda stone pipes. Adriaen Brouwer brilliantly portrayed the toeback-drinckers in his paintings, giving them a dramatic expression that characterised card players and tavern thugs, often depicting them almost as if they were caricatures.

But he was not the only one, because many more traces of the cannabis plant can be found in the Golden Age of Dutch painting, as you can see in these other paintings which, naturally, are worthy of exhibition in the world’s major art galleries. Because, without a doubt, in addition to their artistic value, these works are a great witness to the historic consumption of cannabis:

This picture was painted over 350 years ago by the Dutch artist David Teniers the younger (1610-1690), a contemporary of Rembrandt
This picture was painted over 350 years ago by the Dutch artist David Teniers the younger (1610-1690), a contemporary of Rembrandt

'Smoking and drinking monkeys' 1660. Teniers the Younger also painted animals such as monkeys and cats performing human activities, using them as allegories of behavior and social dynamics
‘Monkeys Smoking and Drinking’ 1660. Teniers the Younger also painted animals such as monkeys and cats performing human activities, using them as allegories of behaviour and social dynamics

‘Young man offering a pipe to a woman’, Jan Havicksz Steen 1661. This Dutch Baroque painter became famous for his colorful and motley scenes with a comic tone but a moralising background
‘Young Man Offering a Pipe to a Woman’, Jan Havicksz Steen 1661. This Dutch Baroque painter became famous for his colourful and motley scenes with a comic tone but a moralising background

'The Smoking Man' is a picture by Joos van Craesbeeck that was painted between 1635 and 1636 and falls within the Flemish Baroque period. It is currently in the Louvre Museum
‘The Smoking Man’ is a picture by Joos van Craesbeeck that was painted between 1635 and 1636 and falls within the Flemish Baroque period. It is currently in the Louvre Museum

A man blowing smoke at a drunken woman, by the painter Jan Steen, (1660-65)
‘A Man Blowing Smoke at a Drunken Woman’, by the painter Jan Steen, (1660-65)

'Drinkers and smokers', Simon de Vos, 1626. Those emblematic red eyes leave no room for doubt
‘Drinkers and Smokers’, Simon de Vos, 1626. Those familiar red eyes leave no room for doubt!

Boy lighting a pipe - Hendrick Terbrugghen - 1623
‘Boy Lighting a Pipe’ – Hendrick Terbrugghen – 1623

Guitarist', by David Rijckaert III, 1641. The feathered hat worn by the woman characterises her as a prostitute.
‘Guitarist’, by David Rijckaert III, 1641. The feathered hat worn by the woman characterises her as a prostitute.

'Smokers in an Interior' by David Teniers II 1637. Madrid's Museo del Prado has an extensive collection of around 40 works by this artist.
‘Smokers in an Interior’ by David Teniers II 1637. Madrid’s Museo del Prado has an extensive collection of around 40 works by this artist.

'Still life with a glass of beer, a pipe, tobacco and other requisites for smoking' (including a hemp wick lighter) by Jan Jansz van de Velde, 1658.
‘Still Life with a Glass of Beer, a Pipe, Tobacco and Other Requisites for Smoking’ (including a hemp wick lighter) by Jan Jansz van de Velde, 1658.

Jan Steen's 'As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young' in 1664. The artist decided to use his real family in the painting with a self-portrait of himself lighting the pipe for his actual son.
Jan Steen’s ‘As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young’ in 1664. The artist decided to use his real family in the painting with a self-portrait of himself lighting the pipe for his actual son.

The Five Senses: Smell' by Jan Miense Molenaer, 1637. Molenaer also superbly painted scenes from the Bible, such as The Betrayal of Peter, depicted in a typical Dutch tavern.
‘The Five Senses: Smell’ by Jan Miense Molenaer, 1637. Molenaer also superbly painted scenes from the Bible, such as The Betrayal of Peter, depicted in a typical Dutch tavern.

The Guard Room (La Tabagie, dit aussi Le Corps de garde) by the Le Nain brothers (Louis), 1643. A clear example of French genre painting.
‘The Guard Room’ (La Tabagie, dit aussi Le Corps de garde) by the Le Nain brothers (Louis), 1643. A clear example of French genre painting.

Although less represented, the nobility was also frequently high as a kite. 'Happy Company', by Willem Pietersz Buytewech. 1620
Although less represented, the nobility was also frequently high as a kite. ‘Happy Company’, by Willem Pietersz Buytewech. 1620

La Charmante Tabagie' (The Charming Smoke Room), engraving by Nicolas Armoult, 1690
‘La Charmante Tabagie’ (The Charming Smoke Room), engraving by Nicolas Armoult, 1690

'Woman Holding a Jug', Jan Miense Molenaer, 1640. Women smoking pipes did not escape the histrionic gaze of the period's painters either.
‘Woman Holding a Jug’, Jan Miense Molenaer, 1640. Women smoking pipes did not escape the histrionic gaze of the period’s painters either.

Another example of how women were portrayed smoking over time. L'esclave blanche (The White Slave) by Jean Jules Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ, 1888.
Another example of how women were portrayed smoking over time. ‘L’esclave blanche’ (The White Slave) by Jean Jules Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ, 1888.

The years go by and the pipes also get longer. 'A Group of Danish Artists in Rome', Constantin Hansen, 1837. He was one of the painters associated with the Golden Age of Danish painting.
The years go by and the pipes also get longer. ‘A Group of Danish Artists in Rome’, Constantin Hansen, 1837. He was one of the painters associated with the Golden Age of Danish painting.

'The Hashish Smokers', 1887. In his eagerness to capture the light, the Italian painter Gaetano Previati would turn to an unusual source of knowledge to illuminate his canvas... The Hashishins!
‘The Hashish Smokers’, 1887. In his eagerness to capture the light, the Italian painter Gaetano Previati would turn to an unusual source of knowledge to illuminate his canvas… The Hashishins!

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button