Nicotiana Exhibition Vienna: The Cultural History of Tobacco

The Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna’s Art History Museum, is marking the occasion of two anniversaries – 10 years of Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and 225 years of the Austria Tabak company (which has been part of JTI since 2007) – with an impressive exhibition organized in collaboration with JTI showing the evolution of tobacco consumption.

The exhibition, which is in the Bassano Hall, was opened by the museum’s General Director Sabine Haag, who said, “We are very proud to have secured JTI’s partnership in mounting the ‘Nicotiana’ and ‘Made in Japan’ exhibitions and we are very excited by what is a topclass exhibition on the subject of tobacco.” The Kunsthistorisches Museum, Austria Tabak – founded in 1784 by Emperor Joseph II as a tobacco monopoly – and the Tobacco and Salt Museum in Tokyo have all contributed works from their collections. As a result the display contains art treasures from over four centuries and from different continents, ranging from a pouch from the Edo era right up to contemporary works of art by Otto Mühl and Kiki Kogelnik.


An 1870 snuff box bearing the portrait of Emperor Josep II. | Photo: Austria Tabak

From the moment clay pipes first appeared at the court of Queen Elizabeth I smoking tobacco not only became socially acceptable throughout Europe it also became a subject for art. Dutch genre and still life paintings soon reflected the important part that clay pipe smoking played in social gatherings at all levels of society. Snuff was sophisticated, and princes and nobles commissioned the famous artists of their day to fashion exquisite tobacco boxes.

Around the beginning of the 19th century pipes became fashionable again – but only for men; ladies were henceforth barred from the pleasure – and the exhibition has a display of magnificent items from this era made from wood, porcelain and meerschaum. In smoking rooms and coffee houses from about the middle of the 19th century gentlemen were also able to indulge in the cigar and soon afterwards, the cigarette.

Ceremonial Opening

On the evening of the 7th of May a large number of prominent guests from politics, business and the arts attended a gala dinner to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the founding of Austria Tabak and 10 years of its parent company, Japan Tobacco International, and to officially open the exhibition. The event was held in the wonderful historical ambience of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, under the patronage of the Japanese ambassador Akio Tanaka, who gave a speech.

Pierre de Labouchere (CEO of JTI) and Dr. Martin Graf (President of the Austrian Parliament) also addressed the audience. It can only be hoped that exhibitions like these demonstrate that “fine smoke” was and still is a cultural asset, and – even if its political and social acceptability has currently reached an alltime low – that it can continue to enrich and enhance the quality of our lives in a whole variety of ways, both as a substance that brings smokers hours of relaxation as well as an object of art.

S.E. Akio Tanaka und Gattin

Japanese Ambassador Akio Tanaka and his wife admire the exhibits | Photo: Christian Houdek

This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2009.

She learned her journalistic skills from scratch at a regional daily newspaper, for which she wrote articles for many years. Through working for the magazine Der Spiegel in Rome she had the opportunity to increase her professional knowledge in the field of media. Katja studied art history and Romance studies in Heidelberg, Palermo and Rome and, during the course of her studies, spent many years in Italy. The country was her teacher in things related to pleasure and lifestyle. She has been working for Cigar Journal since 2004. In 2010 she became editor-in-chief.


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