Coffee in Art History

The History of Coffee in Art

Edward Hopper's Automat, first shown on Valentine's Day in 1927, depicts a lone woman enjoying a late night cup of coffee.

Art history is filled with examples of coffee being depicted in art, but what is the meaning behind it? While sometimes a cup of coffee is just that, often it can be a reflection of what was happening behind the scenes in history.

Coffee as a Symbol of Counter Culture

Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, coffee houses were used as gathering places for the great thinkers and writers of society. Revolutionary concepts were born as people would gather around a cup of black coffee, exchanging new and radical ideas. Coffee houses were frequently being banned and shut down as these "dens of dissidence" were viewed as a threat to society. The depiction of coffee in artwork during this time period is often symbolic of the new age of rebellion and free thinking. Being painted with coffee in hand meant you were associated with going against the grain and being a part of counter culture.

Coffee as a Symbol of the Working Class

Vincent Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters, painted in 1885, shows a family sharing a pot of coffee. As the world moved into the 19th century, the world of coffee began to change as well. Once seen as an exotic commodity, coffee became more accessible to the working class. New styles of coffee houses began popping up, catering to the needs of the working class and their demanding schedules. Paintings featuring coffee were meant to symbolize indulging in the hot beverage after a hard day's work, highlighting the every day man and woman of society.

What about today? Coffee, like art, has become ingrained in our culture, an important part of our everyday life. Modern artists continue to use coffee as subject matter, and some have even taken it a step farther by using coffee itself as a painting medium. Stay tuned as we explore this fun subject, and be sure to share your favorite coffee inspired artwork!

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