Picasso produced this work in the autumn of 1901, during his second trip to Paris, when he was just 22 years old. The theme of man's loneliness in a cafe, of isolation and emptiness, was not new to French art in the second half of the 19th century and could be found in the works of Degas and of Picasso's much-admired Toulouse-Lautrec. But in the paintings by the young Spaniard the theme acquired a previously unknown sense of drama. The lonely subject sits at a table in a café, the background a dirty-red wall which reinforces the sense of discomfort. Emphasizing the flatness of the canvas, the color of the walls and the bluish tone of the marble table seem to press the space inwards, around the woman, enclosing her in her hopeless loneliness. In the pose of the absinthe brinker, in her face, we can identify the outcast: the totally enclosed space of her body, the expressive distortion of the right hand, seem to indicate the tension of a coiled spring.
The State Hermitage is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display, comprise over three million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world.