Today I would like to share two environmental portraits which show their subjects occupying drinking establishments. ‘Girl in a Bar’ by Spanish painter Ramon Casas and ‘A Minstrel with a Wine Glass in a Tavern’ by German painter Ferdinand Keller both depict individuals whom I would assume are no stranger to their surroundings. Call them “barflies” or “regulars,” if you will. As odd as this may sound, these two world-weary nightlife veterans strike me as vaguely familiar, as if I’ve encountered them before during my own years in the scene. That aside, these two wonderful works are elegantly framed and exhibit a fine attention to detail.
The woman in Casas’s painting strikes me as pensive, slouching over her table while looking sharply off canvas. Perhaps she is waiting for her party to arrive, searching for her companion in the distance, or maybe she’s just while people-watching. Having ordered a drink and lit up a cigar, she’s obviously not in any rush to leave, but nonetheless she seems worried, perhaps hoping to avoid a certain someone. I can’t help but notice that her left hand appears stressed, as if she were nervous about something, while her expression looks both exhausted and sullen. This probably isn’t the best night for her.
Her demeanor aside, the vibrant red of her blouse certainly stands out--breathing life into what would otherwise be described as a somber portrait dominated by dreary blue-green hues.
The scene in the background outside the window provides some context, featuring a woman wearing a decorative headpiece, perhaps indicating a higher social classes of people than that of our subject, but that might be a stretch. At any rate, the scene outside serves to emphasize the loneliness of our subject.
Moving to our second piece, the gentleman in Keller’s painting seems much more comfortable in his environment. Our violin player appears to have taken a break from his instrument to mind something with his hands—something which I can’t completely make out. I get the impression this musician has sat at this bench before, night after night playing his music for the tavern patrons. The position of his legs and feet also indicate that he’s at ease in this particular spot.
At his side on the bench I notice a small glass, perfectly highlighted and elegantly displayed for the viewer. This is one of my favorite qualities of this painting, and if you look closely you can find another glass at the table seen in the background.
I also love Keller’s rendering of wood and stone throughout this piece, supplying a special character to this grey environment. For better or worse, this establishment has the feel of a cavern, holed away from the outside world while sunlight from a faraway window softly fills in the rough elements of its rugged interior.
Detail for the Keller painting are behind the cut.
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