Édouard Manet

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Édouard Manet (1832-1883) came from an affluent family and wanted to become a naval officer. After failing the entrance exams, he turned to art, for which he demonstrated great talent from an early age. At eighteen, he entered the studio of Thomas Couture, the most important academic painter of the period.

Manet’s relationship with the artistic establishment in Paris was complex: he pursued challenging and subversive work and encouraged the rebellious approach of the group of slightly younger artists that would become the Impressionists. Yet, he refused to exhibit alongside them in independent exhibitions and maintained his connections with the official art world, submitting paintings to the annual exhibition of contemporary art, the Salon.

Two paintings in particular stand out in Manet’s oeuvre as disrupting the Parisian art world’s sense of tradition and standards. Submitted for display at the 1863 Salon, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) was rejected for its sketchy brushwork and the juxtaposition of a nude woman and clothed men. Olympia (also 1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) was accepted at the 1865 Salon but caused a scandal for its harsh outlines, its depiction of a brazen courtesan and the overt parodying of an iconic Renaissance painting, Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538, Uffizi, Florence).

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was Manet’s last major painting, undertaken when he was very ill and almost invalid. It was shown in the 1882 Salon and was still in his studio when Manet died in 1883. He managed to capture a fleeting sense of modern life in Paris and, at the same time, create a painting that has endured in its popularity since its creation.