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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet Analysis & Facts
Dawit Abeza
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet Analysis & Facts

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet Analysis & Facts

Many aspects of the A Bar at the Folies-Bergère painting have perplexed critics. As the artwork continues to be the focus of countless public and academic essays. 

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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère Analysis

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet

A youthful barmaid leans forward behind a marble countertop in A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, at the center of the canvas. Bottles of champagne (on the left), a vase with bouquets, a dish of tangerines, and bottles of beer are displayed on the countertop (on the right). As well as, a huge mirror is located behind her. The golden frame of the mirror is seen behind the barmaid's arm, yet the mirror's projection leaves the observer in confusion and uncertainty.

The spectators, arms are seen on a platform in the top left corner, and a man talking with the barmaid in the right top corner are all reminiscent of the actual Folies-Bergère, Paris' original music hall. Manet's artwork centers on the anonymous barmaid – probably a prostitute, as female barmaids offered sexual services.

To a modern observer accustomed to adoring portraits of famous individuals, this layout must have been rather perplexing. Additionally, the barmaid behind the bar stares at us, the audience, with her eyes. Compelling us to stare back at her as if we were an ensuing client. However, a closer examination of the backdrop indicates that the observer is not the client.

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The barmaid is talking with a man reflected in the mirror behind her, which could be Manet's self-portrait. It's probable that Manet, who was sick with syphilis at the time of work, was attempting to capture the essence of his existence in Paris, as music halls, cafés, and prostitutes were all part of his daily routine.

Another intriguing feature of the barmaid is her body language, which continues to elicit controversy amongst art critics who can't decide whether she's dreaming, unhappy or melancholic, or simply fatigued after a long shift.

Her character is instantly examined, as barmaids were frequently used as prostitutes; the posture of Manet's body is yet another indication that supports this view. She appears to be detached from the customer, but her reflection in the mirror shows her pressing forward, perhaps courting.

It's also worth mentioning that the mirror provides the observer with a conundrum. Although we can see the barmaid conversing with the gentleman in the reflection, we can't see the other guy she might be engaging with when we stare directly at her.

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Her look gives the impression that she's waiting for us, the audience, to make the next order. The mirror also illuminates the theater, the crowd, a massive chandelier suspended from the ceiling, and the feet of a performer on a trapeze on the upper left.

The Folies-Bergère could be mistaken for an opera theater at first glance, but it was a music hall that featured ballet, opera, comedy, and circus performances.

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Men and women in formal dresses are depicted in the crowd, which, combined with the magnificent chandeliers, liquor, and beer bottles, indicates that the Folies-Bergère was frequented by the increasing middle and upper classes.

To the left of the barmaid, three couples may also be identified. All three ladies are seated in the front of the males who surround them; these women are on exhibit, showing their appearance to the rest of the audience.

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Folies-Bergère

The Folies-Bergère was one of Paris' most opulent variety-show venues, including everything from ballets to circus acts.

Another draw was the barmaids, who were widely considered to be accessible as secret prostitutes by many historical observers. Manet boldly pushed a morally controvertible subject into the world of great art by showing one of these ladies with her male patron.

Manet secured his claim to be recognized as the heroic "painter of modern life" imagined by critics like Charles Baudelaire by handling the subject with deadpan gravity and artistic skill.

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Édouard Manet

This well-known painting was Édouard Manet's final major work, finished a year before his death and presented at the Salon in 1882. This artwork would have surprised Salon visitors in several ways, not only because it appears to follow the standard portrait format but does not identify its subject.

Moreover, the barmaid seems to be yet another element in the enticing selection of beverages on offer in the foreground.

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Facts about Folies-Bergère

1. The Folies-Bar Bergère's is a magnificent sight to behold. It's a big piece, measuring 37.8 inches by 51.2 inches. Furthermore, Manet includes intriguing elements, such as a woman staring through opera glasses, that compel the viewer to wonder what lies beyond the frame.

2. The painting was not done in the bar. Manet worked on this gigantic masterwork in the solitude of his studio, despite doing several preliminary sketches on location.

3. Las Meninas could have had an impact. The odd royal picture by Diego Velázquez from 1656 likewise experimented with the viewpoint in a way that has long sparked debate and discussion. Manet was a known admirer of the works of the 17th-century Spanish painter. 

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