Degas evidently retained in memory a moment when his sitters were in pensive mood. He did not seek to flatter them or make a `pretty picture' (an idea he regarded with horror). On the other hand nothing could have been farther from his thoughts than to depict these familiar acquaintances as monsters of dissipation and degradation in order to draw a moral lesson. It might be observed, incidentally, that Desboutin was drinking nothing stronger than black coffee! In England, however, the persons represented were considered to be shockingly degraded an by an involved piece of reasoning the picture itself was regarded as a blow to morality. So it appeared to such Victorians as Sir William Blake Richmond and Water Crane when shown in London in 1893. The reaction in an instance of the deep suspicion with which Victorian England had regarded art in France since the early days of the Barbizon School and the need to find a lesson at all costs that was typical of the age. George Moore in trying to defend Degas was as unperceptive as any. `What a slut!' he had to say of poor Ellen Andrée and added, `the tale is not a pleasant one, but it is a lesson', a remark for which he had later the grace to apologize.
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