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Numerous artists and writers were noted absintheurs (absinthe drinkers) and featured absinthe in their works. These include Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Manet, Guy de Maupassant, Arthur Rimbaud and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Later authors and artists would draw from this cultural well including Pablo Picasso, Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway.


About Absinthe

Absinthe (from French, from Latin absinthium, ancient Greek apsinthion, "wormwood") is a high-alcohol anise-flavored liquor derived from herbs including the flowers and leaves of the medicinal plant Artemisia Absinthium, also called wormwood. Nicknamed la Fée Verte ("The Green Fairy"), absinthe has a taste similar to other anise-flavored liqueurs, with a light bitterness imparted by the use of other herbs, and is traditionally a pale or emerald green in color. It is especially known for its popularity in France—particularly its romantic associations with Parisian artists and writers—in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, until its prohibition in 1915.

Absinthe's popularity grew steadily through the 19th century until the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops as a fever preventative. When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them, and it became popular at bars and bistros.

By the 1860s, absinthe had become so popular that in most cafés and cabarets 5 p.m. signaled l’heure verte ('the green hour'). Still, it remained expensive and was favored mainly by the bourgeoisie and eccentric Bohemian artists. By the 1880s, however, the price had dropped significantly, the market expanded, and absinthe soon became the drink of France; by 1910 the French were consuming 36 million litres of absinthe per year.

“l’Absinthe”  Oil on wood, by Caroline   Zimmermann, 2006

At the height of its popularity, absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive, psychoactive drug; the chemical thujone was blamed for most of its deleterious effects.  Thousands of posters were printed defaming the drink and demanding prohibition. By 1915 absinthe was banned in a number of European countries and the United States.

The most popular brand of absinthe worldwide was Pernod Fils.

A number of films were made about absinthe shortly before and after the turn of the century, most of them “instructive plays” on the evils of absinthe. All of the films have been lost except for a Dutch language copy of the Glen White 1913 film, “Absinthe”.

"What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?"

     Oscar Wilde

“Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.”  From a petition to ban absinthe, published by the Croix Bleue, 1906.

Background photo credit:

“The Absinthe Drinkers” by Fulvio Chiti

© 2009 Dirty Poet Films, LLC

A modern absinthe revival began in the 1990s, as countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. The mystery and illicit quality surrounding absinthe has played into modern music, movies and television shows: The success of the films “Moulin Rouge” “Modigliani” and “From Hell” have helped make absinthe the hot drink in many European bars.  There are absinthe references in the music of REM, Nine Inch Nails, Beth Orton and John Zorn, and the famous “One More Saturday Night” logo from the Grateful Dead featured a skeleton swigging absinthe. Modern-day absintheurs include Johnny Depp, Marilyn Manson and Eminem.


  1. *The Absinthe Drinkers is not a film about absinthe, it is about a group of late 19th century artists for whom absinthe was a part of their culture and, quite often, a subject for their paintings. The title is taken from the numerous paintings made during that era that featured absinthe in the subject and title. That said, the depiction of absinthe in the film will be true to the historical record, i.e. there will be no “burning” of absinthe or other modern affectations, and all cast members will be trained by a historical consultant in preparation techniques.

Many of the great artists of the mid - late 19th century took on absinthe and its culture as subject matter.

“The Absinthe Drinker”

Eduoard Manet 1858

“The Absinthe Drinkers”

Jean-Francois Raffaelli c 1880-1881


Edgar Degas 1876

“The Absinthe Drinker”

Jean-Francois Raffaelli  1880

“The Absinthe Drinker” by Pablo Picasso (1901) was recently put on the market for £40 million by owner Andrew Lloyd Webber.

“Portrait of Vincent van Gogh”

(with absinthe) 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1887