While many of us know that the green fairy was beloved by 19th century bohemians, exactly how many famous absinthe drinkers could you identify by name?
France’s love affair with la fee verte – or the green lady – is one of the primary reasons as to why absinthe grew to such notoriety during the late 19th century. Favoured by artists, writers and bohemians alike, the streets of Paris came alive every evening once the green fairy began to flow freely. Often portrayed – and embraced – as a hallucinogenic, it was banned across much of Europe before experiencing a revival in the western world in the early 1990’s.
Most of us don’t realise the sheer impact that this green elixir actually had on the production of some of the world’s most famous novels, paintings and poetry. However, if you look closely into some of the work produced at this time, the influence of the green fairy is more prominent than what initially meets the eye – so who were these famous absinthe drinkers, and what are their most noteworthy pieces of art?
WHICH ARTISTS DANCED WITH THE GREEN FAIRY?
Absinthe is now regarded as the muse of creativity and aesthetic enlightenment, but this sentiment can all be traced back to Paris in the 19th century. Embraced by creatives who dabbled in all forms of the arts, who are some of the more famous absinthe drinkers that are commonly recognised today?
Vincent Van Gough – While Van Gogh is often regarded as the most prolific of absinthe users in his time, it’s also rumoured that he consumed the oils and turpentines used in his paintings too. While his mental decline has often been linked directly to an overreliance on the green fairy, modern medical professionals believe his instability to be more so related to overall alcoholism, probable bipolar disorder and possible schizophrenia.
Ernest Hemingway – The famed American writer was a prolific consumer of absinthe, and continued to drink it during sabbaticals in Spain and Cuba long after it was banned in France – he even invented the “Death In The Afternoon” absinthe based cocktail in 1935. The liquor even got a mention in some of his most well known novels, such as “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “The Sun Also Rises”.
Oscar Wilde – As a self professed alcoholic, Oscar Wilde often embraced absinthe as a way to issue a “creative boost”. One of Wilde’s most famous quips about absinthe speaks to his love of tragic irony in his written works, and the quote is known as the following: “After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”
Pablo Picasso – Absinthe was so revered by Picasso, that the substance features in a variety of his works, including the paintings “Woman Drinking Absinthe” (1901), “Bottle Of Pernod And Glass” (1912), and the sculpture “Absinthe Glass” (1914). Although of Spanish origin, Picasso spent most of his adult life in France, and is regarded as one of the most famous absinthe drinkers during the height of Bohemianism in Paris in the early 19th century.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – As one of the best-known painters of the Post-Impressionist period, the French artist was notorious for his consumption of the green fairy. Many of his impressionistic scenes were painted on the back of absinthe consumption, with works featuring prominent brothers and night spots popular in Montmartre, Paris. During long evenings of hedonism in 19th century Paris, he was famed for carrying a holly cane filled with the liquor.
As the muse of choice for many painters, writers, artists, novelists and poets in France, absinthe has also been known to influence other key figures of that time. With other “fans” of the substance including Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Paul Verlaine, Paul Gauguin, Lord Byron, Baudelaire, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Dowson and Alfred Jarry, the real question is who wasn’t dancing with the green fairy?