ⓘ L'Absinthe


ⓘ LAbsinthe

LAbsinthe is a painting by Edgar Degas, painted between 1875 and 1876. Its original title was Dans un Cafe, a name often used today.

Other early titles were A sketch of a French Cafe and Figures at Cafe. Then, when exhibited in London in 1893, the title was changed to LAbsinthe, the name by which the painting is now commonly known. It is in the permanent collection of the Musee dOrsay in Paris.


1. Description

Painted in 1875–76, the work portrays a woman and man sitting side-by-side, drinking a glass of absinthe. They appear lethargic and lonely. The man, wearing a hat, looks to the right off the edge of the canvas, while the woman, dressed more formally in fashionable dress and hat, stares vacantly downward. A glass filled with absinthe is on the table in front of her. The models used in the painting are Ellen Andree, an actress who also appeared in Edouard Manets paintings Chez le pere Lathuille and Plum Brandy, and Marcellin Desboutin, a painter and etcher. The cafe where they are taking their refreshment is the Cafe de la Nouvelle-Athenes in Paris.


2. Reception

At its first showing in 1876, the picture was panned by critics, who called it ugly and disgusting. It was put into storage until being exhibited again in 1892, but was again treated with derision. The painting was shown again at the Grafton Gallery in England in 1893, this time entitled LAbsinthe, where it sparked even greater controversy. The people and the absinthe represented in the painting were considered by English critics to be shockingly degraded and uncouth. Many regarded the painting as a blow to morality; this was the general view of such Victorians as Sir William Blake Richmond and Walter Crane when shown the painting in London. That reaction was typical of the age, revealing the deep suspicion with which Victorian England had regarded art in France since the early days of the Barbizon School, and the desire to find a morally uplifting lesson in works of art. Many English critics viewed the picture as a warning lesson against absinthe, and the French in general. The comment by George Moore on the woman depicted was: "What a whore!" He added, "the tale is not a pleasant one, but it is a lesson". However, in his book Modern Painting, Moore regretted assigning a moral lesson to the work, claiming that "the picture is merely a work of art, and has nothing to do with drink or sociology."

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