By the Table is a group portrait as much as a testimony to the literary history of the 19th century, and the Parnassus poetry group in particular. A group of men are gathered around the far end of a table after a meal. Three are standing, from left to right: Elzéar Bonnier, Emile Blémont and Jean Aicard. Five are seated: Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, Léon Valade, Ernest d'Hervilly and Camille Pelletan. They are all dressed in black except one, Camille Pelletan, who is not a poet like the others but a politician. The central place is occupied by Emile Blémont, who bought the painting and gave it to the Louvre in 1910.
At least two figures are missing: Charles Baudelaire, to whom the painting was initially to have been a tribute, who died in 1867 and Albert Mérat who did not want to be painted in the company of the diabolic poets Verlaine and Rimbaud and was reputedly replaced by a bunch of flowers.
The painting was criticised for being too big: "Who advised Mr Fantin-Latour to give his table such epic, monumental proportions? There is a contradiction between the painting's ambitious dimensions and its subject matter that ends up being irritating."