A Bar At The Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet
Bar At The Folies-bergère Print
The Folies-Bergère was one of the most elaborate variety-show venues in Paris, showcasing entertainment ranging from ballets to circus acts. Another attraction was the barmaids, who were assumed by many contemporary observers to be available as clandestine prostitutes. By depicting one of these women and her male customer on an imposing scale, Édouard Manet brazenly introduced a morally suspect, contemporary subject into the realm of high art. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère painting was presented by Manet at the 1882 Paris Salon exhibition, just one year before his death. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was painted when Manet was terminally ill, maintains the artist's contradictory outlook. Manet represented fine art at the fullest, did several preparatory sketches on location, he worked on this massive masterpiece in the privacy of his studio. On the one hand, it features a modern setting in The Folies-Bergere - the most famous and modern of Paris's cafe-concert halls, which was noted among other things for its new-fangled electric lights. The painting is fine art and the culmination of his interest in scenes of urban leisure and spectacle, a subject that he had developed in dialogue with Impressionism over the previous decade. The painting is a masterpiece that has perplexed and inspired artists and scholars since it was painted over 100 years ago. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is a modern version of Velazquez's Las Meninas (1656-7), the most profound meditation on the portrait.
In addition to the social tensions evoked by the painting's subject, Manet's composition presents a visual puzzle. The barmaid looks directly at the viewer, while the mirror behind her reflects the large hall and patrons of the Folies-Bergère. Manet seems to have painted the image from a viewpoint directly opposite the barmaid. Yet this viewpoint is contradicted by the reflection of the objects on the bar and the figures of the barmaid and a patron off to the right. Given such inconsistencies, Manet seems not to have offered a single, determinate position from which to confidently make sense of the whole.
Analysis of A Bar at the Folies Bergere by Manet
This picture, painted when Manet was terminally ill, maintains the artist's contradictory outlook. On the one hand, it features a modern setting in The Folies-Bergere - the most famous and modern of Paris's cafe-concert halls, which was noted among other things for its new-fangled electric lights. In addition, its brushwork is Impressionistic and its framing has been influenced by the new art of photography. On the other hand, its meaning is totally obscure, even baffling, dealing as it does with a problem that occupied Manet throughout his working life: the relationship, in figurative painting, between reality and illusion. Probably modeled on Las Meninas (1656), the enigmatic Baroque masterpiece by Velazquez, the picture seems to be a straightforward frontal image of a barmaid serving behind her marble-topped counter, who looks out at us, the viewer/customer. Then we notice the huge mirror behind her and the confusing reflections it contains. The barmaid's reflection has been shunted to the right; while in the top-right corner we see a ghostly image of a man who appears to be directly in front of her, and whom she is leaning forward enthusiastically to serve.
A huge amount of analysis has been devoted to this work by art critics and historians, in an attempt to decipher its meaning and reconcile the apparent dislocation between the actual reality of the barmaid and her counter, and the surreal reflections in the mirror. There has been much discussion about "artificial space", the "spectral domain of the mirror", the "discontinuities between actual and reflective realms", and so on. Luckily, Dr. Malcolm Park, an art historian in Australia, appears to have unraveled at least part of the mystery, in his doctoral dissertation entitled, "Ambiguity, and the Engagement of Spatial Illusion Within the Surface of Manet's Paintings" (University of NSW, 2001). Using a photographic reconstruction, Park demonstrates that the painting conforms more truthfully than previously thought to a one-point perspective view. Manet actually constructed the scene not from a frontal head-on position, but from a viewpoint slightly to the right. Seen from this angle, the assumed 'conversation' between the barmaid and top-hatted gentleman is actually an optical trick - the man in fact is standing outside and to the left of the new viewpoint, and is looking away from the barmaid - he is not standing directly in front of her, facing her. Likewise, the barmaid's frontality is also optically deceptive. Instead of standing parallel to the bar and looking straight ahead, she is facing slightly to the right of the picture as we see it, facing the new viewpoint.
A Bar At The Folies-Bergère Facts
A trapeze artist hides almost out of frame.
Look to the upper left corner of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and you'll notice a pair of green slippers at the ends of two pale legs, standing on a swing. These limbs belong to an acrobat performing for the wealthy guests of this extravagant bar. Just another night at Folies-Bergère!
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère withstood accusations of flawed perspective.
At first glance, you might think the balconies and grandness of the titular bar sit behind the becoming barmaid. But if you observe the bottles to her left and the woman turned away at her right, you'll see these are reflections from the mirror, the gold frame of which can be spotted behind her wrists. Confusion arose from this use of perspective. Is the viewer meant to be the mustachioed gentleman to the right? If so, the angles of the mirror seem off. Is it Manet's mistake?
Las Meninas might be an influence.
Diego Velázquez's unusual royal portrait from 1656 also played with perspective in a way that's long inspired debate and interpretation. Manet was a noted admirer of the 17th-century Spanish painter's works. Art historians suspect A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was his take on that strange and seemingly candid portrait.
A Bar At The Folies-Bergère Art Elements
The bottles, fruit, and vase of flowers arranged on the counter are replicated with all the precision of a still life painting, as well as the symbolism of a Dutch Realist vanitas painting, in which the transience of life is a major feature. The oranges, for instance - are they an illusion to the inevitable decay and death of human life (Manet was dying, after all), or do they symbolize prostitution (as in other works by the artist)? The bottles of English beer - Bass Pale Ale - may represent the temporary pleasures of the flesh, but their conspicuous presence on the counter (instead of the more usual German beer) may also allude to Manet's anti-German feelings in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War (1871).
The woman behind the bar is believed to represent one of the prostitutes - another pleasure of the flesh for which the cafe-concert hall was well-known - although she is actually a real person, known as Suzon, who worked at the cafe-concert hall during the early 1880s. Manet painted her in his studio. Meanwhile, the model for the mysterious gentleman, top-right, was Manet's neighbor the military painter Henry Dupray (1841-1909).
Other noteworthy touches include: the legs of the trapeze artist which appear in the top-left corner of the picture; Manet's signature, which appears on the wine bottle, bottom left; and three of Manet's friends - Gaston Latouche, Mery Laurent and Jeanne de Marsy - who are all identifiable among the blurred images in the mirror.
Although much of the content of this masterpiece appears to be resolved, its ultimate meaning remains obscure. Was this picture Manet's last attempt to produce the ultimate modern 'history painting' to secure his membership of the Academy? Did Manet intend the Folies-Bergere to represent Paradise, or a dangerous den of iniquity, or merely a popular setting? And who or what does the barmaid represent? Is she a beguiling Venus-like figure or a fallen individual and a lesson to us all. Then again, Manet was dying of syphilis, so was this picture a final reminder of the pleasures that were about to take his life?
Édouard Manet Biography
Born on January 23, 1832, in the bustling city of Paris, Édouard Manet was blessed to be a part of a well-off family. His parents were both highly recognized in their hometown, as his father was a reputable judge while his mother was of royal ancestry. Early in his life, Manet knew that his ultimate desire was to become an artist, and he found support from his uncle to pursue this field. Along with his uncle, the two visited the Louvre where he found greater inspiration to improve on his artistic skills. In 1845, he decided to sign up for a drawing course, as he was encouraged by his uncle. It was during that time when he met a fellow art enthusiast, Antonin Proust, who soon became one of his dearest friends.
Édouard Manet Mid-Career
Trying once again to gain acceptance into the salon, Manet submitted “Olympia” in 1865. This striking portrait, inspired by Titian’s “Venus of Urbino,” shows a lounging nude beauty who unabashedly stares at her viewers. The salon jury members were not impressed. They deemed it scandalous, as did the general public. Manet’s contemporaries, on the other hand, began to think of him a hero, someone willing to break the mold. In hindsight, he was ringing in a new style and leading the transition from realism to impressionism. Within 42 years, “Olympia” would be installed in Louvre. After Manet’s unsuccessful attempt in 1865, he traveled to Spain, during which time he painted "The Spanish Singer." In 1866, he met and befriended the novelist Emile Zola, who in 1867 wrote a glowing article about Manet in the French paper Figaro. He pointed out how almost all significant artists start by offending the current public’s sensibilities. This review impressed the art critic Louis-Edmond Duranty, who began to support him as well. Painters like Cezanne, Gauguin, Degas, and Monet became his friends.
Édouard Manet Impressionism
Unlike the core Impressionist group, Manet maintained that modern artists should seek to exhibit at the Paris Salon rather than abandon it in favor of independent exhibitions. Nevertheless, when Manet was excluded from the International exhibition of 1867, he set up his own exhibition. His mother worried that he would waste all his inheritance on this project, which was enormously expensive. While the exhibition earned poor reviews from the major critics, it also provided his first contacts with several future Impressionist painters, including Degas. Although his own work influenced and anticipated the Impressionist style, he resisted involvement in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because he did not wish to be seen as the representative of a group identity, and partly because he preferred to exhibit at the Salon. Eva Gonzales was his only formal student.
Late-Career and Death
In 1874, Manet was invited to show at the very first exhibit put on by impressionist artists. However supportive he was of the general movement, he turned them down, as well as seven other invitations. He felt it was necessary to remain devoted to the salon and its place in the art world. Like many of his paintings, Edouard Manet was a contradiction, both bourgeoisie and common, conventional and radical. A year after the first Impressionist exhibit, he was offered the opportunity to draw illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s book-length French edition of "The Raven." In 1881, the French government awarded him the Légion d’honneur.
Édouard Manet Famous Quotes
"Everything is mere appearance, the pleasures of a passing hour, a midsummer night's dream. Only painting, the reflection of a reflection - but the reflection, too, of eternity - can record some of the glitter of this mirage." - Édouard Manet
Color is a matter of taste and of sensitivity. (Edouard Manet)
-in a letter to Isabelle...
I would kiss you, had I the courage. (Edouard Manet)
The attacks of which I have been the object have broken the spring of life in me... People don't realize what it feels like to be constantly insulted. (Edouard Manet)
Insults are pouring down on me as thick as hail. (Edouard Manet)
When you've got it, you've got it. When you haven't, you begin again. All the rest is humbug. (Edouard Manet)
-on the work of Berthe Morisot...
This woman's work is exceptional. Too bad she's not a man. (Edouard Manet)
You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real. (Edouard Manet)
It is not enough to know your craft – you have to have feeling. Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more. (Edouard Manet)
He is the painter of painters. (Edouard Manet)
There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another. (Edouard Manet)
No one can be a painter unless he cares for painting above all else. (Edouard Manet)
If I'm lucky, when I paint, first my patrons leave the room, then my dealers, and if I'm really lucky I leave too. (Edouard Manet)
There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. (Edouard Manet)
You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and unique figure and still keep it living and real. (Edouard Manet)
-on the Irish writer George Moore, 1878...
I won't change a thing in his portrait. Is it my fault if Moore looks like a squashed egg yolk and if his face is all lopsided? Anyway, the same applies to everybody's face... (Edouard Manet)
There's no symmetry in nature. One eye is never exactly the same as the other. There's always a difference. We all have a more or less crooked nose and an irregular mouth. (Edouard Manet)
I need to work to feel well. (Edouard Manet)
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