Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (French, 1803-1860)
Oil on fabric, Unframed: 63 x 38 cm (24 13/16 x 14 15/16 in.). Bequest of Noah L. Butkin 1980.254
The artist was a smoker. In this composition the place of honor is given to a pipe made in Austria around the middle of the 19th century. It is made of precious materials--meerschaum, silver, amber, horn or lacquered wood--that are carefully fashioned, all lovingly rendered by the artist. The cord with a tassel (perhaps of horsehair) is not just a decorative element, it is a security measure in case the precious bowl of the pipe becomes detached from the pipe stem. The pipe is surrounded by ordinary smoker's accessories--a cigar case, a snuffbox, and a match holder in porcelain--all placed on a Turkish rug.
The Latin inscription translates: "Use, not abuse." In 1858 Decamps was 55 years old and not in the best of health. Perhaps a doctor had advised him to reduce his consumption of tobacco.
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