Félicien Rops (Namur 1833-1898 Essonnes) Buveuse d'Absinthe

Born in a wealthy family, Félicien Rops got interested in Art already at young age, sketching and drawing in the blank margins of music scores while his father played Beethoven and Mozart. He abandoned his studies in Law and Philosophy and his artistic career begins with Rops' society-criticising satirical illustrations for "Uylenspiegel, journal des ébats artistiques et littéraires (1853-1863)".

In 1857 he marries Charlotte Polet de Faveaux, who inherits chateau Thozée, where Félicien hosts most of his artistic friends. Through the editor Auguste Poulet-Malassis Rops is introduced to the famous etcher Félix Bracquemond and Charles Baudelaire, the latter who brings a radical change into his career. Together with his friend Armand Rassenfosse Félicien develops the Ropsenfosse technique.

Rops had a love-hate affair with Paris where he would become one of the best-paid and most famous illustrators (Les Epaves, Les Diaboliques). He boasted to be even better paid than Gustave Doré. Every year he felt the urge to visit the artistic capital for some three months, after which he needed to recover from the sultry climate of the metropole. It is here in Paris, where he meets the sisters Léontine and Aurélie Duluc, who became his maîtresses. The meandering rest to recover from Paris, Rops finds during travels to Swiss, Belgium, Scandinavia, Hungary, Spain, Holland, USA, Africa, Bretagne and Monaco where he recovers from the gloominess. It is here in the countryside, where Rops unwinds and draws his serene pure subjects, which form a welcome contrast to the feverish Parisian crucible.

Finally, Rops found his comfort in the countryside of Corbeil, where he bought the "Demi-Lune", close to the river Seine. He died in 1898 surrounded by Léontine, Aurélie, his daughter Claire and his close friends Rassenfosse and Detouche.


The subject of the absinth drinkster passes several times within the oeuvre of Rops as well as drawing, painting and print and shows the roughness and harsh scene on the seamy side of life in the metropole.[1][2]

Rops, fascinated by the harsh world of selvedge and prostitution, shows his absinth drinksters with icy cold expressions, totally depleted of life, awaiting their customers on street corners alike a spider and her web. They are the true mysogenic incarnation of the devil, alluring man into his downfall.

In his drawing "Parodie Humaine" (once part of "Les Cent Légers Croquis sans prétention pour réjouir les honnêtes gens" (One Hundred light-hearted sketches without pretentions to rejoice the honourable people) (1878-1881), a set of two albums comprising a total of 114 drawings commissioned by the Parisian bibliophile Jules Noilly, Rops' Chef-d'Oeuvre) Death itself is represented as a syphilitic prostitute, seducing a gentleman under the shady light of a modern lantern. In "la Dêche" a streetworker boldly stands in front of her very own pricelist, offering her seducing but devastating services.

The drawing was made shortly after Rops started visiting Paris and once belonged to the private-collection of Edmond Deman, editor in Brussels and close friend to Rops.[3]




[1] Félicien Rops, The Absinthdrinkster. Black chalk, watercolour, gouache, 418 x 282 mm. Signed and dated "Félicien Rops, '78". Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België, Brussel. Inv. nr. F3675.

[2] Félicien Rops, Les Bas-Fonds. Oil on canvas, 950 x705 mm. Koninkllijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België, Brussel. Inv. no. 687.

[3] La Plume No 172, 15 Juin 1896. Numéro spécial consacré à Félicien Rops, depicted on p. 495

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