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Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 'A Young Man Drinking', 1655-60

Key facts
Full title A Young Man Drinking
Artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Artist dates 1617 - 1682
Date made 1655-60
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 62.8 × 47.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by John Staniforth Beckett, 1889
Inventory number NG1286
Location Room 30
Collection Main Collection
A Young Man Drinking
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

A young man cradles a bottle, presumably full of wine, and drinks from a smooth-sided glass. Vine leaves, a symbol traditionally associated with Bacchus, the mischievous god of wine, garland his head. He looks at us with a conspiratorial gaze, and though he might appear to be encouraging us to join him, the possessive way in which he guards the bottle suggests that he might well keep its contents all to himself.

Genre paintings are rare in the work of Murillo, and the subject of this picture remains enigmatic. The young man may be drinking wine, but he is doing so with dignity and care, holding the glass daintily by its base. He is perhaps a server at a tavern, but the reference to Bacchus better explains his mischievous expression.

The painting, now widely accepted as by Murillo, was once considered to be by an eighteenth-century imitator.

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