Edgar Degas: L’absinthe (1876)

Edgar Degas: L’absinthe (1876)


Edgar Degas’ 1876 painting L’absinthe depicts a scene at a restaurant or bar: a woman is seated at a table, gazing at the floor. Next to her sits a man who is focused on something out of frame. The woman is centered in the picture, even though it seems as if she is the on the edge of whatever scene is occurring next to her. This perspective–focusing on the disappointed person on the edge of the action–plays a significant role in developing the melancholy mood of the painting.


The characteristic bold brushstrokes of Impressionism can be seen in this work. The lack of minute detail in the painting creates a foggy feeling, much like the despair evident in the subject’s expression. However, the most detailed part of the picture is the woman’s face–her expression draws the viewer’s attention due to the stark shadows and lines not visible elsewhere in the picture. By drawing the attention to the expression of disappointment on her face, the artist creates the mood for the work as a whole.


Additionally, Degas’ use of color adds to the overall mood: the painting is comprised almost entirely of neutral colors. The overwhelming presence of gray and brown adds to the melancholy feel of the painting, creating something that lacks the liveliness and energy of color.

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