A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-2
Oil on canvas
Samuel Courtauld Trust: Courtauld Gift, 1934
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-2, The Courtauld Gallery, London
The Folies-Bergère was Paris's first music hall, described by one magazine as having an atmosphere of 'unmixed joy'. It was notorious as a place for men to pick up prostitutes; the poet Maupassant said the barmaids were 'vendors of drink and of love'.
Here a barmaid is shown before a mirror, which reflects the audience watching a performance. Manet knew the Folies-Bergère well. He made preparatory sketches there, but he painted the final version in his studio, planning his composition in the sketch shown below. One of the Edouard Manet, Oil Sketch for A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82 (Private Collection, courtesy Pyms' Gallery, London) barmaids, Suzon, acted as a model, posing behind a bar Manet had set up.
This picture was Manet's last major work, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882. It is unsettling. An acrobat's feet dangle in the air at the top left of the painting. The quickly-sketched crowds suggest the bustle of the Folies- Bergère.
In contrast, the barmaid is detached and marooned behind her bar. Manet has displaced her reflection to the right. She faces us, but the mirror shows her leaning towards a customer. Are we standing in his shoes?
More about this painting:
See it in the gallery
Manet Face to Face: the 2004 exhibition
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Find out more about this painting (Wikipedia)
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