The Whiskey Drinker (Irish Giant)
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?”
All Images and Text © James G. Mundie 2005 - 2010