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3.6.05

Absinthe in Art

I have written recently about the green fairy in the work of Toulouse-Lautrec (the show is at the National Gallery of Art until June 12, and it goes then to the Art Institute of Chicago, from July 16 to October 10). Absinthe, that legendary drink, is back in art news today, after I read an article (De la Fée verte à Notre-Dame de l'oubli, May 31) by Roger Pierre Turine for La Libre Belgique. It's a review of an exhibit called L'Absinthe: De la fée verte à notre Dame de l'oubli (May 21 to August 21) at the Musée Rops in Namur, Belgium. There are 80 works related to absinthe, including paintings, drawings, posters, photographs, examples of glasses and water carafes used in the drinking ritual, and even a recreation of a bistrot from the turn of the century with its absinthe distilling machine.

The ground floor of the Rops Museum holds a pretty set of paintings, gouaches, and watercolors filled with both the delights and horrors of la fée verte. With his Incompris, André Devambez (1867-1944) depicts drinkers several sheets to the wind who could be any of us. Other encounters with serious addicts are signed by Raffaëlli, Evenepoel, Béraud, Sickert, Rops, and Maignan. Then, superb in its wild color, Van Dongen's La buveuse d'absinthe, a stunning pastel by Mucha, an exorbitant Spilliaert, and a Manet engraving. On the upper floor, there is a reconstructed bistrot, posters, and photographs, with three powerful Daumier lithographs, an Rik Wouters, and several Rops works confirming the strangeness of this ambiance of overwhelming calm.
The afternoon rite of absinthe, known as l'heure verte, took its name from the drink's nickname, la fée verte (the green fairy), but it was also known by the titles l'atroce sorcière (the atrocious sorceress) and, my favorite, Notre-Dame de l'oubli (Our Lady of Forgetting). Marie-Claude Delahaye, founder of the Musée de l'Absinthe in Auvers-sur-Oise, curated this exhibit.

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