L’Absinthe, by Edgar Degas



Oil on Canvas
92 x 68 cm
Musée d’Orsay, París


When this canvas was exhibited in London, still in the Victorian era, it caused a certain amount of controversy because it showed a woman who appears to be one of the bar’s regulars, possibly a prostitute, in front of a glass of the noxious drink which gives its title to the work.


Absinth was a symbol of artistic and bohemian life during the Parisian Belle Époque (1871-1914 approx.) and the protagonist, alongside champagne, of many an excess around the epicentre of the Moulin Rouge, so much so that it was prohibited in many countries shortly after because of its supposed hallucinogenic effects.


Seen with contemporary eyes, the most notable aspect of this work, however, is its daring composition, very much in keeping with the style of some of the best works of Degas, with a strong off-centre placing of the anonymous featured pair, whose surrounding emptiness seems to emphasise their isolation and transience.