Manet’s first stab at Academy approval, failed to conform to any of those requirements. The Absinthe Drinker, painted between 1858 and 1859, is a portrait of a Parisian lowlife down, a down and out drunk, living on the margins of society, a victim of the cities ongoing modernisation. It was a subject the academy would generally deem unworthy of portrayal.
Manet made sure that was the case by painting the vagrant as a full-length portrait, a format usually reserved for the revered, a point Manet acknowledges with irony by dressing his vagabond respectably in a black top hat and cape.
The Absinthe Drinker perches on a low wall, as does a full glass of the strong liquor to his right. He stares drunkenly over the viewers left shoulder into the middle distance, the evidence of his intoxication made apparent by an empty bottle lying on his feet. It is a dark, menacing portrait.
That Manet had not chosen an appropriate subject was a mark against him as far as the Academy was concerned. A tally he doubled with his technical style.
He had not painstakingly rendered his portrayed in the approved grand manner of Raphael, but had produced a flat, almost two-dimentional image, by applying large blocks of color with barely a transitional tone between them.