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This design is partly based on Degas’s Absinthe, a depiction of the ravages of alcohol which caused outrage when it was exhibited at the Grafton Galleries in 1893. However, where Degas’s woman is wasted and downcast, Beardsley’s is plump and assertive. It was thought at the time that she was a caricature of Whistler’s wife, Trixie, whom Beardsley considered to be as arrogant as her husband. The setting is probably the Café Royal in London which was then a favourite haunt of avant-garde artists and writers.

August 2004