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Edgar Degas
Absinthe Drinker
(also seen it titled)  
Au Café 
Edouard Manet -- French Painter 
Baltimore Maryland 
The Walters Art Gallery 
Oil on canvas 
47.5 x 30.2 cm (18 5/8 x 15 3/8 in)
jpg: Jim's Fine Art Collection 
(Click on the image to step closer)

Cafés were the heart of Parisian life and painters would meet to discuss and argue the theories and schools of thought. 

In Manet's painting, with the exception of the man with the top-hat, each person in the painting is either cut off by the frame or is partially overlapped by others. The man with the hat is the person we're sitting across and looking at, but he is not our central focus -- the room itself is our focus. 

An interesting painting. 

When I look at this I can feel the energy of the café. I can even hear in my mind's ear the noise of the surrounding conversations, the clinking of glass on the hard surface of tables, and silverware against porcelain (though I don't know if they served food). I have been in so many cafés exactly like this (or nearly so) that the painting comes to life for me. Manet has captured an instant in time.  

Now isn't this really how we experience a café? Is not our cognition of all the motion around us, all the other people somehow truncated, fragmented by the narrow focus of our own group we're with? We hear an answer from the next table, but not the question. We hear a laugh, but not the punch line. We see someone leaning and whispering, but the words are absent. We sense people moving about, but they are faceless. In that moment between thoughts, when our own conversation has reached a pause, when everyone in our party is staring in different directions, all these external things float in upon us, but none of them are complete -- not in that moment --  like a snapshot, the energy of the room is captured, but only as impressions to be filtered and filled in by our mind.  

The setting in this painting is the brasserie-concert "Au cabaret de Reichshoffen" on the boulevard Rochechouart, which served Manet as a setting for The Beer Waitress. (Henri Lallemand, Manet, A Visionary Impressionist, P.77)  

But the painting came about almost as an accident, read what BM Putnam writes me: 


I just read your article on Manet's At the Cafe.  I also find the painting interesting and complex.  However, you may want to revise some of your material. 

Manet's painting was inspired by Degas Absinthe Drinker (1876).  The same models appeared in both paintings, but in Manet's they are older and more distinguished. 

At the Cafe [this painting above] was cut from an original painting entitled La Brasserie de Reischshoffen.  Also cut from the original painting was, a  Waitress Serving Beer and At the Cafe (another painting with the same title).  After the original painting was cut, Manet restreched At the Cafe (Cafe-Concert) and repainted it. The only figure he did not repaint was the man with the top hat.  It is possible, the figures are cut off because of the cutting of the original painting. 

Cafe's were a meeting place for many artists where they exchanged ideas and many paintings were inspired by the cafe environment.  If cafe's were a place to meet and exchange ideas, why are none of the subjects looking at each other?  Each is starring off into a daze and in deep thought, except for the waitress drinking beer who is not concerned with her customers (the man and the woman). Even the singer is starring away from her audience.  When studying the subjects, I wonder what Manet's intentions were. 

Just thought I would raise a few issues.  Thank you for taking the time to make a web page on what I believe to be one of Manet's best pieces. 

BM Putnam

Great comments BMP. Why revise when you said it better than I could. 



Waitress Serving Beer

At the Cafe

By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2002 all rights reversed
Created 1999
Updated 10/03/2003


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