The Divine Weed 1

In these health-conscious times it is probably not often recalled that smoking was once considered the height of style. Ever since tobacco arrived in Europe after the Spanish conquest of the Americas, it had been thought medicinal, therapeutic, fashionable. By the nineteenth century, it was known as the divine weed. Art followed life, and through the eyes of artists, we can see the evolution of smoking and smokers. Here is a series of paintings from Russia and environs.

Young woman with cigarette, by Pyotr Zabolotsky.

Young woman with cigarette, by Pyotr Zabolotsky.

Young woman with cigarette‘ by Pyotr Zabolotsky (1803-1866) is first, and a surprising theme it is too. Women who smoked were considered somewhat infra dig, and yet this lovely, evidently upper-class woman, has no compunctions about being seen with a cigarette.

Soldier resting, by Mikhail Larionov. (1911).

Turkish woman smoking a pipe, by Mikhail Larionov. (1928).

Above are a couple of works by Mikhail Larionov.

Self-portrait, by Teodor Axentowicz. (1888).

Self-portrait, by Teodor Axentowicz. (1888).

I’d never heard of Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938), a Polish-Armenian artist, but this self-portrait is remarkable.

Mr Padegs and the Astral, by Kārlis Padegs. (1939).

Mr Padegs and the Astral, by Kārlis Padegs. (1939).

Self-portrait, by Kārlis Padegs. (1932).

Self-portrait, by Kārlis Padegs. (1932).

Two paintings by the Latvian artist Kārlis Padegs (1911-1940). He died tragically young of complications from tuberculosis, and was long forgotten until rediscovered in the 1980s.

Trumna chłopska, by Aleksander Gierymski. (1894-95).

Yet another Polish artist is Aleksander Gierymski (1850-1901), who painted Trumna chłopska (‘Peasant coffin’) between 1894-95.

Pokkasakki, by Vilho Lampi. (1929).

Pokkasakki, by Vilho Lampi. (1929).

And here’s Pokkasakki (Card players?) by the suicidal Finnish artist Vilho Lampi (1898-1936).

Man with pipe, by Boris Grigoriev. (1920s).

Man with pipe, by Boris Grigoriev. (1922).

Boris Grigoriev’s ‘Man with pipe‘ is from 1922, after he left Russia for France. This was painted in Brittany.

Portrait of Meyerhold, by Pyotr Konchalovsky. (1938).

Portrait of Meyerhold, by Pyotr Konchalovsky. (1938).

Pyotr Konchalovsky (1867-1956) painted the director Vsevolod Meyerhold in this languid pose. Check out the dog on Meyerhold’s leg, only slightly more alert.

Passerby, by V. Kalinin. (1974).

Passerby, by V. Kalinin. (1974).

This is a much more recent work, a caricature perhaps? Passerby – by V. Kalinin.

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