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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Bistro is one of several titles given to a 1909 painting by the American artist Edward Hopper (1882–1967). It is also sometimes known as Le Bistro or The Wine Shop, even though these last two terms are not exact synonyms.

The work is in the Realist style which was very popular in the early years of the 20th century, and for which Hopper was particularly known.

At first glance, the painting seems to show an almost completely rural scene, with trees bending in the wind and an elegant arched bridge crossing a small river. The only apparent concession to the modern world is the line of houses just visible to the left of the wide, empty boulevard. However, a second look draws the eye to the pair of figures seated at the table in the bottom left-hand corner and reveals that this is in fact Paris.

The drinkers are apparently deep in conversation, with the bottle of wine they share standing forgotten to one side.

At the time this work was produced, Hopper was still a struggling unknown, several years away from making his first sale (the 1911 painting Sailing, sold in 1913). He had made several trips to Europe and had become interested in the work of French engraver Charles Méryon, who was noted for his moodily atmospheric scenes of Parisian life. In between trips to the opera and theatre, Hopper also spent much time drawing the everyday life of the French capital.

Hopper usually referred to his painting by the French name Le Bistro, probably because the word "bistro" was not yet in common use in English and he was dissatisfied with its English translation as The Wine Shop. It may also be to emphasise the sheer Frenchness of the picture's contents: with its Gallic moodiness and casual outdoor drinking, this is not a scene that could have been painted in Hopper's native United States.

The painting is on canvas and is relatively small at about 59 by 72 cm; this gives the work an air of intimacy despite the open spaces it depicts. It was bequeathed by Hopper's widow Josephine to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.