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L'Absinthe

Artist: Edgar Degas
Created: 1876
Dimensions (cm): 68.0 x 92.0
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

L'Absinthe is set in a café in Paris often visited by Degas and his peers, including the artist Manet. It is perhaps meant to be a type of illustration of Emile Zola''s novel, ''L''Assommoir'', which was appearing the year the work was painted. The two subjects are not fictional characters, however; they were both known to Degas. The man is Marlin Desboutin, a painter, print-maker and good friend to Degas. Next to him sits Ellen Andrée, a Parisian actress.

Although they sit next to each other, the two figures in the scene do not speak. They seem to be almost ignoring both each other and the glasses which sit in front of them. The rest of the picture is filled with empty tables upon which lie rolled up newspapers attached to wooden rods. The viewpoint is slanted and the figures sit in the upper right-hand corner. This unusual composition, perhaps influenced by Japanese art, creates a 'slice of life' feeling; the painting resembles a candid photograph. The greenish-white absinthe in the woman's glass stands out among the generally muted or drab colors.

Degas' work combines simple observation with an exploration of deeper psychological activity. The physical immobility and blank stares of the subjects in the work imply a sense of isolation which is not physical but emotional. Degas' ability to capture this depth of feeling by simply presenting a common local scene is a testament to his great artistic skill.

 

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