Today’s work of art is dates from the 17th Century and depicts an elderly gentlemen enjoying his vices, both beer and tobacco. It’s by a relatively obscure artist, Gabriël Metsu. He was a Dutch painter who lived most of his life in Leiden, and his father was also a painter.
The title of today’s painting is The Old Drinker, which is at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The museum describes the painting like this:
On this minuscule panel, measuring just 22 x 19.5 cm, Gabriël Metsu painted with minute detail this everyday scene of an old man with his Gouda pipe. Gouda pipes are white and have a long, slender stem and a small bowl. They were mass produced from around 1617 in the Gouda area, where white pipe clay (terra alba) was readily available. Copper moulds were used to model the clay, which was subsequently fired in the kilns of local potters. Pipes manufactured in other cities usually had shorter stems, but long stems were popular because they cooled the smoke better. However, they were difficult to produce, and the pipe-makers of Gouda were the only manufacturers with the necessary expertise. and his pewter jar leaning on against a beer barrel. The old drinker looks rather the worse for wear; he sags rather than sits on the chair as he peers through his watery eyes, his chin unshaven, his collar open and his cap askew. Metsu presents the man with a direct honesty and realism that is not in fact harsh; the smile and the friendly eyes of the old drinker lend a certain sympathetic quality.
In more general terms they later discuss the symbolism in the painting.
In the seventeenth century, there was a belief that smoking and drinking in excess accelerated the aging process. Paintings of ‘old drinkers’ are often a reference to this idea. This work is perhaps a warning to avoid excessive indulgence in alcohol and tobacco.