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The Whiskey Drinker (Irish Giant)

"The Whiskey Drinker (Irish Giant)" is copyright    2005 by James G. Mundie. All rights reserved.  Reproduction prohibited.

Pen and ink, 10 x 4.75 inches, 2005

The portrait of this tall gentleman has two sources of inspiration: a pitchcard of Hugh Murphy, P. T. Barnum's "Colossal Irish Giant", in which Murphy was dressed up in top hat, tailcoat and ceremonial sash like the grand marshall of the St. Patrick's Day parade; and Edouard Manet's first widely known painting, The Absinthe Drinker (1859) now in the collection of Denmark's Ny Carlsberg-Glyptotek.

Murphy's pose in the photo — the start of a raised fist and a furtive glance off camera — looked as if he was fixing for a fight, and even his tall hat was strikingly similar to that worn in Manet's painting. Now recognized as a masterpiece, The Absinthe Drinker was rejected by the Paris Salon because the painting featured an unsentimentalized 'low' character of the Parisian streets, a drunken rag picker whose disheveled image could hardly serve to uplift the public. Well, that and the jury hated Manet's palette, composition and nonacademic brush strokes. The peculiar stance of Manet's drinker is said by some critics to portray insanity, or more probably the euphoric effects of absinthe — that highly potent liquor laced with herbal stimulants which produces a state favored by artists and poets.

Now, as enchanting as the Green Fairy may be (and green though it is), an Irish giant would certainly prefer to wet his whistle — especially after presiding over the parade on St. Patrick's Day — with a drop of the stuff, uisce beatha, the water of life, the juice of the barley that's as pure and gentle as mother's milk itself. So here we see Murphy in some dive, an empty bottle of Tullamore Dew and a tumbler of the craythur replacing Manet's drink of choice, and the heat of the liquor encouraging our giant to sort out some boyo who either insulted his sainted mother or asked one too many times, “How's the weather up there?”




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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2005 - 2010