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Absinthe – because of its beautiful and ever-changing green colour, its air of danger and seduction, and its allegedly psychoactive
properties - was romanticized and captured in artwork but many artists of the late 19th and early twentieth centuries. Some of
these artists were celebrated not just for their work, but also for their often outrageously bohemian lifestyles. A few even went
mad, or at least behaved as if they were (facts that would later be used by prohibitionists as proof of absinthe's evils).
Degas' groundbreaking L'Absinthe (1876) pictures two forlorn-looking café patrons staring out beyond their milky-green drinks.
Although the people pictured were merely actors, this painting later roused intense comment for its unprecedented gritty realism.
Edouard Manet, took this even further by daring to paint an actual drunkard with absinthe, titled The Absinthe Drinker (1859).
Perhaps the most famous of all absinthe drinkers was Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh painted many of his works in ochres and pale
greens, which are the colours of absinthe. Many of these paintings also depict the bar in which Van Gogh drank absinthe, and
himself with glasses of the apéritif. It's widely, but almost certainly incorrectly believed, that Van Gogh went mad from absinthe
poisoning. As is often the case, the truth is more complex.
Van Gogh was throughout his life an outcast and a depressive who suffered from epileptic fits and bouts of psychotic attacks. He
also drank a lot of absinthe while living in Arles with Paul Gauguin, and was prone to deeply eccentric behaviour – such as
painting outside at night with candles hooked to his hat. He was sent to a sanitorium in 1888 after he was forced out by a petition
from people in his town who were frightened by his bizarre ways. He never acted violently, excepting when he sliced off his own
ear during a psychotic fit. Van Gogh certainly drank excessive amounts of absinthe, and he did suffer from mental deterioration -
however, the one does not necessarily follow the other. Van Gogh's family had a history of mental illness, and van Gogh not only
drank absinthe, but also turpentine on several occasions (it's interesting to note that thujone, the active ingredient in wormwood,
is a terpene). He committed suicide in 1890, clearly deeply disturbed over and above the consequences of his absinthe drinking.
Absinthe & Art I - Pablo Picasso
In his early years, particularly during the height of his Cubist period from 1907 to 1914, Picasso
was profoundly influenced by the publicity material he saw in the Parisian bars and cafes he
frequented. A print of Charles Maire's famous painting for Pernod Fils hung in his studio, and is
reflected in several of his most famous cubist paintings and collages.
It seems at least possible that the newly discovered bronze publicity casting for Absinthe Junod
shown here might also have influenced the development of Picasso's 1914 Cubist sculpture
"Verre d'absinthe", widely regarded as one of his most original and influential works. The
similarities are striking: both stand around 20 cm tall, both are cast bronze but incorporate a real
absinthe spoon on which is affixed a bronze sugar cube, both have a conical base rising to a
vertical "Yvonne" shape. The angled facets at the bottom of the Junod glass seem also to presage
the spatial deconstruction found in Picasso's sculpture.
Absinthe & Art II - Félicien Rops
The remarkable Belgian artist and engraver Félicien Rops drew "La Buveuse d Absinthe"
(meaning specifically the female absinthe drinker) in 1865 at the age of around 32 and frequently
afterwards drew the same subject over the next 30 years.
The picture always shows a slender woman leaning against a pillar outside a dance-hall, her low
neckline and fine dress showing she is part of the nightlife. Her insouciant attitude, accompanied
by her staring eyes, slightly opened mouth and haggard expression suggest she is a prostitute.
She became the archetype of the female absinthe drinker.
Absinthe & Art VIII - Georges Goursat "Sem"
Born in the Dordogne region of France, Georges Gourset - who worked under the name "Sem"
was attracted to the glamour of the big city and studied art in Paris. His outstanding skill as a
caricaturist was soon recognised, and he attained great success through his imaginative
portrayals of Paris and Parisians from the 1880's onwards. By capturing the spirit of the subject
rather than exact physical traits, Sem produced images that were probably truer to life than formal
Sem contributed to many newspapers and journals and created several folios of imaginative
looks at members of society and their amusements. With abundant good humor, Sem depicted
everyone from society matrons to famous entertainers to bookmakers at Longchamp.
Sem was a member of the Salon des Humoristes and an officer of the Legion of Honor. He died
after a long and rewarding life in 1934.
Absinthe & Art XII - Anti-Absinthe Caricatures
Original pen and watercolour sketches by graphic artists for anti-absinthe propaganda,
produced between around 1905 and 1915, including a striking pastel signed "Mathieu 1912"
possibly representing Coupeau, the anti-hero of Zola's epic novel "L'Assommoir".
Absinthe & Art IV - Albert Maignan
Absinthe & Art V - Jean-François Raffaëlli
Absinthe & Art VI - Jean Béraud
Absinthe & Art VII - Charles Maire
Absinthe & Art IX - Jean-Louis Forain
Absinthe & Art X - Honoré Daumier
Absinthe & Art XI - Henri Avelot
Henri Avelot (1873 - 1935) was a painter, cartoonist, illustrator and author. He exhibited his
paintings at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1901, but it was at the Salon des
Humoristes, where he exhibited a series of designs and drawings in 1910, that his talent as a
satirist was first recognized.
From a 1904 issue of the popular satirical journal Le Rire, comes this remarkable and prescient
full page cartoon - De L'Heureuse Influence de L'Alcoolisme dans les Arts - satirizing the effects
of alcohol and absinthe on the avant-garde artists of the day.
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