The green fairy "

The green fairy

  • In a cafe, also known as L'Absinthe.

    DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

  • Verlaine at Café Procope, after Cesare BACCHI.

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Title: In a cafe, also known as L'Absinthe.

Author : DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

School : Impressionism

Creation date : 1876

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 92 - Width 68

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 94DE55053 / RF1984

In a cafe, also known as L'Absinthe.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Verlaine at Café Procope, after Cesare BACCHI.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Etching

Storage location: Absinthe Museum

Contact copyright: © Absinthe Museum - Auvers-sur-Oise

Verlaine at Café Procope, after Cesare BACCHI.

© Absinthe Museum - Auvers-sur-Oise

Publication date: January 2006

Historical context

Until the end of the 1870s, French hygienists conveyed the idea that alcoholism was the prerogative of the "working classes". Therefore, the "green fairy" is accused, because of its high alcoholic strength (70 °) and its harmful essences, of all evils. It is accused not only of deteriorating the digestive organs and causing insomnia, but of leading to mental alienation, even to crime, and, in the extension of the theories of heredodegeneration, of not disappearing with the absinthic individual but to be transmitted to his descendants.

However, the prohibition of absinthe on March 16, 1915, in the midst of the war, is purely symbolic since alcoholics quickly market similar aniseed.

Image Analysis

Degas’s painting and Cesare Bacchi’s etching have several points in common.

Both works represent famous artists in the 1870s, the copper engraver Marcellin Desboutin and the actress Ellen Andrée in the first case, the poet and novelist Verlaine in the second. In addition, they show characters that exhibition enthusiasts have seen, not long before, in very different poses and appearances.

Marcellin Desboutin was, in 1876, The Artist by Manet. He appears on this canvas, standing in the center of the frame and "in majesty", staring at the viewer. Slender and very erect in his shiny blue velvet suit, his white tie well tied, he stands out against the background of the ocher-colored field. A few months later, in Absinthe, the man is less dashing and everything in his posture signifies relaxation. Hunched over and his tie loosely tied on an open coat, he sits staring into space. Idle, he does not look at his companion, who seems dazed. The two artists are part of the brewery. Not only are their hair, clothes and shoes the same brown as the seat, but the dark reflection of their heads appears in the mirror behind them and seems to grab them.

Apparently, Cesare Bacchi takes the photograph “Verlaine au Procope”. Yet the two images are far from identical. If the etcher scrupulously copies the decor of the cafe and the utensils responsible for expressing the absinthe ritual, on the other hand, he considerably ages the poet, whose features are no longer smooth but chiseled, whose shoulders are no longer straight. but drooping, whose beard is no longer well trimmed but in battle.


Thus, through purely pictorial processes, both Degas and Bacchi translate the irremediable damage caused by the “green fairy”. But this drink, whose consumption sharply increased during the 1870s due to a temporary wine crisis due to phylloxera and mildew, was the ideal victim for at least three reasons. Above all, it bothers the winegrowers. As the headlines of the Morning, "Down with absinthe! "(November 20, 1906) then" For wine against absinthe "(June 15, 1907), the press relayed not only the anti-alcoholic leagues, but also the winegrowers who were no longer able to sell their production. The Little Parisian, The Uncompromising, The small newspaper, Dawn…: All have published the opinions of eminent doctors like those expressed by the worried world of the vineyard, which reacted with virulence. Then, unlike most other distilled drinks, the "green fairy" is not drunk by the most underprivileged layers of French society, but by the military, students, and women who taste it, in view of all, in public establishments and thus demonstrate that they are not only martyrs of male alcoholism.

Absinthe is finally especially appreciated by protesting authors like Musset, Poe, Baudelaire, Verlaine ... which displeases conservative designers and novelists like Léon Daudet or Adolphe Willette, who go on a crusade "for fermented drinks, against 'absinthe; for tradition against revolution ”. Perhaps they sensed that these images of a cursed drug addict artist were going to become a stereotype, because they gave credence to the romantic idea of ​​inspiration from elsewhere. And if these clichés are obviously without scientific basis, if there is no evidence that the "green muse" fostered talent, they nevertheless had inevitable repercussions on reality. As proof of this, the recent photograph of singer Renaud - a former pastis drinker - which illustrates the album cover Hellish noise is a carbon copy of Verlaine at the Procope.

  • alcoholism
  • cafes
  • writers
  • hygienism
  • Absinthe
  • Verlaine (Paul)
  • public opinion
  • Poe (Edgar Allan)
  • Prohibition
  • stereotype


Henri BALATESTA, Absinthe and absintheurs, Paris, Marpon, 1860. Marie-Claude DELAHAYE, Absinthe. History of the green fairy, Paris, Berger-Levrault, coll. “Popular Arts and Traditions”, 1983. Marie-Claude DELAHAYE, Absinthe. Art and history, Paris, Trame Way, 1990.Thierry FILLAUT, Alcohol is the enemy! Absinthe yesterday. Advertising today, Rennes, ed. of the E.N.S.P., coll. “Contrechamp”, 1997.

To cite this article

Myriam TSIKOUNAS, "The" green fairy ""

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