The Glass of Absinthe

Degas, Edgar

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary
  • Date of entry: Oct-30-1998
  • Last revised: Jan-25-1999


A man and a woman sit on a banquette in a restaurant or bar. Although there is no contact between them, the man turns from the woman, looking beyond to the right border of the painting. The woman stares dully before her, her arms slack at her sides. She does not even seem to notice the grass of absinthe that provides the title for the painting.


The diagonal entrance to the scene of the isolated couple reflects Degas’s interest in photography and photographic composition. The picture is composed as if seen from the table in the foreground, thus increasing the viewers sense of a kind of voyeuristic participation in the scene. The two figures, who look like they belong in a Zola novel (L’Assommoir?) are clearly habitués of this place. They come to drink (her absinthe is deadly) and to find some solace for their mutual loneliness and despair.

Editor’s note: According to the notes made by Nicholas Pioch for the on-line site of this painting (The Web Museum), the couple depicted in the painting are actress and painter acquaintances of Degas, "retained in [Degas’s] memory . . . in pensive mood." Pioch’s historical notes are of interest; they belie, however, the impact made by the painting itself, and annotated here.


Painted 1876.

Primary Source

Musee d'Orsay, Paris