Even though Edgar Degas never considered himself an Impressionist, his art was inevitably categorized under that very label. He, too, was influenced by photography and the Modernist perspective on art theory, of the painter of Modern life as the observer of the world around him and a man among the crowd. His paintings contain cutoff figures, unusual points of view, and candid poses, as with this work of his, called The Glass of Absinthe.
This painting leads your eye on a tour of its subject material. The objects on the table closest to you are out of focus, being nearest to our point of view. A newspaper connects two tables, and then across another table are two figures: a sad, lonely woman lost in thought and a man preoccupied with something outside of the frame of the painting. Here, again, are two total strangers who Degas simply observes as a part of the scene of everyday Modern life through his artistic role as a flâneur, and the scene is decidedly less than positive. Painted in bleak browns and sickly yellows, this artwork conveys a general disenchantment and disgust with the conditions of Modern life. Perhaps this is the precise attitude of the woman who stares so glumly into space with a wine glass before her on the table. Absinthe is a kind of alcoholic beverage popular to that time which was believed to cause hallucinations. This woman appears driven to it out of disappointment or discouragement. You can just picture the hopelessness in her eyes. Among the common sentiments of the late Victorian Age was a feeling of being washed out onto the new world stage of industrialism; there were many who turned to alcoholism and drug use. Here the artist is showcasing that world in a scathing exposé which could be read either as a moral warning against the negative effects of substance abuse or as a critical indictment on an industrial world culture which would drive women such as this poor lady here to partake in strong drink.