Albert Besnard, Morphine Addicts

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Date: 1887
Technique: Etching, 23.7 x 37 cm

In fin-de-siècle Paris, Albert Besnard was celebrated for the decorative paintings he contributed to public buildings such as the Sorbonne and Petit Palais. At the same time, he maintained a private but prolific career as a printmaker. Besnard's etchings tended toward darker subject matter, drawing from the cultural anxieties that permeated life in the French capital during these years. This work shows two young women who are—as the title alludes—habitual morphine users. The drug was prevalent in Paris at the close of the century and was referred to frequently throughout popular culture, from artwork to cabaret songs. The pair gaze toward the viewer with vacant, drug-induced stares. The cigarette held by one indicates their subversiveness and provided an alternate title for the print, which was also called The Plume. Combined with the complex array of textures featured in the work, these wisps of smoke—probably achieved by "stopping-out" the plate, or applying a material to prevent acid from acting upon it—indicate the technical mastery that Besnard had already attained in etching early in his career.    


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