A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
Artist Édouard Manet
Year 1882
Medium Oil on canvas
Location Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Dimensions 37.8 in × 51.2 in
96 cm × 130 cm
Famous Paintings by Manet
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe
A Bar at the Folies-Bergèr
The Balcony
The Fifer
The Railway
The Spanish Singer
The Old Musician
Complete Works

The second thing a discerning viewer might notice when they look at Edouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is that there’s something a little wrong with the perspective. The first thing a person would notice, of course, is the sheer sumptuousness of the painting, which was painted in 1881-1882.

The Famous Parisian Night Club

In the painting is a bored-looking bar maid and her lovely blue-black, close-fitted velvet jacket with its gleaming row of buttons, lace collar and cuffs, a choker, her gold bracelet, and the corsage at her bosom. Her very costume tells the viewer that the place isn’t a dive. We see the array of all kinds of liquor, including the unopened bottles of champagne, their necks still wrapped in gold foil. We see the goblet with the two roses in it and a crystal compote filled with exotic oranges.

Behind her, in the mirror, is the huge crowd of the famed Parisian nightspot, reveling beneath moon-like lamps and enormous crystal chandeliers. In the top left corner, we glimpse the green booties and something of the legs of a trapeze artist, high above it all.

An Illusion?

But then we see that there’s something a bit off in the reflection of the wall sized mirror behind the bar maid. Her reflection seems to be leaning forward to speak to a mysterious, mustachioed man wearing a top hat and clutching a cane. Is this a mistake? Not really. We’re looking at the bar maid straight on, the man is a little to the side of her, and she really is leaning toward him to take his order. Everything is bright, maybe too right. Everything glitters. And it’s all brought to life by Manet’s dabs and dots of strategically placed paint. Like the Impressionists, the great artist wanted the viewer to see the play of light on everything. But like the Realists, he also wanted us also to feel the girl’s boredom.

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