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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882
Oil on canvas, 96 x 130 cm, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

Édouard Manet (1832-1883)

Although they were prised by his colleagues, Manet’s paintings often met with disdain from the general public. His Luncheon on the Grass illustrates how he could transplant a traditional motif from the past into the present. The abandonment of perfect spatial illusion, exaggerated attention to detail, and narrative composition was sufficient to irritate the visual expectations of his contemporaries. Although usually capable of recognising mythological themes, they reacted to many manifestations of the obvious with uncertainty.
Unlike the Impressionist who revered him, he did not search for the incidental moment. His gaze is more matter-of-fact. It often appears as if his figures are pausing from their activities. The young woman behind the Bar at the Folies-Bergere is depicted in the midst of her turbulent workday, but she seems somehow withdrawn from her surroundings. To an extent, Manet achieves this effect with an evenly brightened palette but primarily through introducing an additional level to the composition. Behind the “real” bar maid, who is depicted frontally and in the middle of the composition, a Ruckenfigur version of this primary figure is visible in reflection (as are the bar and the entire scene of action). The woman’s reflection, which should not be visible from this angle, leads an intriguing life of its own; the reflection serves a customer’ the viewer, who actually stands before the “original”, taking the place of the reflected customer, is invisible to the bar maid. She is therefore not simply dreaming, she is metaphorically outside of herself.

Find more

Édouard Manet, Biography

Whistler by Duret, Théodore, 1917, London : G. Richards Ltd. ; Philadelphia : J. B. Lippincott Company

Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection by  Bailey, Colin B; Rishel, Joseph J, 1989, New York : Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Harry N. Abrams

  Post-impressionist prints: Paris in the 1890’s by Ittmann, John W, 1998, Philadelphia, PA : Philadelphia Museum of Art   Pierre Auguste Renoir by Frost, Rosamund, 1944, New York : Pub. by the Hyperion Press : distributed by Duell, Sloan and Pearce