Absinthe, 'The Green Fairy'

Absinthe, 'The Green Fairy'

Alfred de Musset appears to have died in 1857 from drinking too much absinthe. This anise-favored drink is powerful, with an alcohol content north of 45%, and it was all the rage in 19th century Paris and, before long, everywhere else. Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, van Gogh, Oscar Wilde and Picasso were among its many devotees... It was banned in France in 1915 by military order and only legalized there in 2011.

It was romanticized in French as la fée verte ("the green fairy") for its seductive qualities and it appears in many paintings and posters up till World War I. Above is The Absinthe Drinker by Czech painter Viktor Oliva (1901), which hangs today in Café Slavia in Prague.

Musée d'Orsay

In the Edgar Degas painting above, known both as Dans un café and as L'Absinthe (1873), is there an implicit criticism of its subjects and, if there is, is it because she is drinking absinthe? Many critics in France and England thought so. Others hated the painting for its "squalid" realism and its melancholy, but this says more about them than the painting itself, which I rather like.

Below is a different viewpoint - this poster of 1910 by Albert Gantner criticizes the ban on absinthe in Switzerland. He did a similar one when France banned it in 1915.