The woman staring directly at the viewer appears as just another item on display. Amongst the riches of champagne, oranges, peppermint liqueur and British Bass Pale Ale, she wearily returns our gaze. The inclusion of oranges also hints at prostitution, a common device employed in paintings by Edouard Manet.
In the background, a fashionable bar crowd is visible. Carousing and socializing, they watch musical and circus acts common in high-society café culture. Indeed, an acrobat’s feet are just visible at the top-left of the painting.
The bar only opened a decade before Manet’s painting. Part of Baron Haussmann’s grand renovation of medieval Paris, the building’s chandeliers and well-dressed clientele demonstrate its appeal to the newly wealthy middle classes.
Despite the bar’s novelty, the institution quickly became a popular music venue amongst Parisian society. Manet frequently visited the bar with friends, making numerous sketches of its beautiful surroundings.
The woman in A Bar at the Folies Bergère was a waitress named Suzon. She worked at the bar but agreed to pose for Manet in his studio.
Her enigmatic expression confused critics at the time, some accusing her of surliness, boredom or resembling a cardboard cut-out. Some even claimed there was no emotion at all.
Despite this disagreement, her expression is even more fascinating when the mysterious man in the mirror is considered. She’s clearly interacting with this male customer, who could represent Manet himself.
Indeed, the artist draws our attention by playing with traditional artistic perspective; shifting the mirror view to the right of where we’d expect.
Mortally ill at the time he painted the Folies Bergère, the painting forms the artist’s swansong. The disorienting scene perhaps represents his own fears at slipping away from the café culture he loved so dearly.
Intriguingly however, the mirror could also reference Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (which features a mirror reflecting the Spanish King and Queen in the background). Manet particularly admired Velázquez and often discussed his work.
Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergère is an example of realism as well as impressionist oil painting.
It demonstrates Manet’s ongoing artistic commitment to realistic and naturalistic treatments of contemporary scenes. His brushstrokes evidence a complex mixture of detailed technique and rapid painterly work, masterfully representing the complex scene.
Despite its frequent association with impressionism, this painting is best understood as a modernist work. Impressionism relies on many small, expressive, quick and fleeting brushstrokes. Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergère conversely utilizes a carefully applied, meticulously thought-through painterly technique.
This realistic, modern treatment reflects a growing artistic self-consciousness. Indeed, the placement of the enormous mirror draws the viewer straight into the artwork itself. It compellingly blurs the boundaries between artist, creator, sitters, barmaids, patrons and the viewing public.
Now owned by the Courtauld Gallery in London, Manet’s artwork remains one of the greatest realist and French Impressionist paintings of all time.
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Manet was born in Paris in 1832 and died in 1883. He was not a successful student and failed the entrance exam to Naval College twice. His wealthy parents were reluctant to accept that art was his chosen path but his academic failures persuaded them and in 1850 he joined the Studio of Thomas Couture to work his tutelage.
Famous paintings by Edouard Manet depict scenes of modern life in Paris and his paintings bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism. Manet is a central figure in the history of art and was dubbed the Father of Modern Art.
Luncheon on the Grass 1862 (Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe) was rejected by the Official Salon but it has become one of Manet's most acclaimed fine art oil on canvas.
The original Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe painting is at the Musee d'Orsay, whilst an earlier version is held by the Courtauld Gallery.
Plum Brandy c1877 also known as La Prune, is another of Manet's portraits of observation of Paris café life. In 1961 the painting was donated to Washington's National Gallery of Art by The Mellon Foundation.
The Luncheon of the Boating Party 1881 is Manet's most iconic painting and also one of his largest oil on canvas works. The scene is social gathering at La Maison Fournaise on the Seine where Manet was a frequent visitor. All the subjects in the painting have been identified as close friends of Manet and his future wife, Aline Charigot is the female to the left of the painting, holding the small dog.
Manet's Spring (le Printemps) 1881 is a portrait of Jeanne deMarsy which was very successfully received when it was exhibited at the 1882 Exhibition of the Paris Salon.
The painting was purchased by the Getty Museum in 2014 for over $65 million. This price exceeded the estimate and set a new record for any Manet painting at that time.
The Bar at the Folies-Bergere was painted in 1882 and is one of our most popular Manet reproductions. Manet regularly frequented The Folies-Bergeres; the infamous music hall and cabaret in Paris at that time. There has been much scholarly speculation about the accuracy of the perspective of The Bar at the Folies-Bergere but nevertheless it is one of Manet's famous oil paintings. Manet's controversial painting Olympia 1883 was inspired by Titian's Venus of Urbano. Olympia was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1865 but it met with derision and scorn as it rejected the established classical lines of the great masters with its thick black lines and visible brushstrokes. In Manet's Olympia painting "Venus" is depicted as a courtesan whose brazen and direct gaze challenges the viewer. Monet and Manet first became acquainted in 1886 but it wasn't until 1874 that they painted together at Grenouillère and Argenteuil. Encouraged by Monet, Manet began painting en plein air, and as a result painted Boating 1874. This painting has a bright color palette and whilst the female has not been identified, the male figure is Manet's brother-in-law Rudolphe Leenhoff. Manet's brother, Eugene, married his friend and fellow artist Berthe Morisot. Manet died in 1883 after having a foot amputated due to gangrene. However he left a legacy of over 400 oil paintings and a further 500 works on paper.
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