Félicien Rops drew “La Buveuse d Absinthe” (meaning specifically the female absinthe drinker) in 1865 at the age of around 32 and frequently afterwards drew the same subject over the next 30 years. The picture always shows a slender woman leaning against a pillar outside a dance-hall, her low neckline and fine dress showing she is part of the nightlife. Her insouciant attitude, accompanied by her staring eyes, slightly opened mouth and haggard expression suggest she is a prostitute. She became the archetype of the female absinthe drinker.
Joris-Karl Huysmans, writer of A Rebours (meaning ‘against the grain’), often said to be the supreme expression of the decadent spirit, described Rops’s absinthe drinker:
M. Rops has created a type of woman that we will dream of, dream of again and be drawn back to, the type of absinthe drinker who, brutalised and hungry, grows ever more menacing and more voracious, with her face frozen and empty, villainous and hard, with her limpid eyes with a look as fixed and cruel as a lesbian’s, with her mouth a little open, her nose regular and short … the girl bitten by the green poison leans her exhausted spine on a column of the bal Mabille and it seems that the image of Syphilitic Death is going to cut short the ravaged thread of her life.
On exhibition of his absinthe drinker at the International Exhibition of Fine Art in his home town of Namur in Belgium, Rops felt himself “spat upon”: The picture outraged the critics and the local civic establishment issued an official rebuke to the artist, who ‘far from consecrating his talent to the reproduction of gracious and elegant works, prostitutes his pencil complacently to the reproduction of scenes imprinted with a repellent realism’.
With unconcealed glee at this notoriety, Rops wrote to his friend Jean d’Ardenne how his La Buveuse d’Absinthe blew the minds (‘les têtes… s’epanouissaient’) of his bourgeois countrymen.’
Original is approx A4 size.