MANET, Edouard
(b. 1832, Paris, d. 1883, Paris)

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Oil on canvas, 96 x 130 cm
Courtauld Gallery, London

In the winter of 1881/82 Manet painted a picture that can stand as a summation of his art: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Now exempt (as an award winner) from the jury process, he exhibited it at the 1882 Salon. Recent scholars have rightly been fascinated by the qualities of the painting and the intensity and diversity of Manet's renewed analysis of part of the society he lived in.

The colours are rather subdued (which may be intended to convey the smoky somnolence of the pleasure palace), but on the other hand Manet gives us first-rate proof of his still-life talent in the foreground. The hard, cold quality of the white light globes is perfectly caught, they are like buttons on the canvas. Manet's pastose brushwork creates a unified tapestry of colour correspondences and contrasts across the various spatial levels. Those levels themselves are intentionally confusing: most of what we see is a reflection in the bar mirror behind the woman. The laws of perspective are broken in a fashion that was a radical departure at the time. The woman's back is reflected at an angle.