The Bar at Folies-Bergere was criticized because of discrepancy in the bartender’s reflection in the mirror. Whether Manet’s perspective error, or a demonstration of a double reality with accompanying meaning, I will argue in this paper that Edouard Manet intentionally altered the bartender’s posture, creating a double reality for the woman and the man through whose eyes the viewer sees. I will build a critical analysis arguing that point, providing a historical context, as well as a personal response.
The Bar at Folies-Bergere (Fig.1. 1881) is Eduoard Manet’s final piece. He sketched various models in alike set-up (Fig. 2. 1881) before settling on the brunette featured in the final piece. Manet complained in a letter that, “Whenever I start something, I’m always afraid the model will let me down... They come, they pose, then away they go, telling themselves that he can finish it off on his own .” The model he chose had ample time for the piece’s completion, as Manet had painted her portrait before, and was familiar with her. He was more confident she wouldn’t prove disappointing (Fig. 3. 1880).
Artists painted to document faces, to remember events in time, and to immortalize footsteps in the world. Photography challenged that purpose, extracting exact images of that seen. Art had to determine if photography would join them, and art also had to redefine its purpose in response to this new medium.
“During the Franco-Prussian war, Manet carried a photograph of his wife Suzanne with him to comfort him ,” displaying his familiarity with photography. Scholar, Charles Alexander Moffat, further determined that “the influence of photography resulted in his using blurriness in a conceptual manner to help him with his paintings in order to show movement .” Impressionism, expressionism, and abstraction emerged as responses to photography’s ability, and Manet seems to have not only used photography for the benefit of his art form, but combined the pervading impressionistic style with a more realistic, documenting style with movement blurs to make a final statement.
It is to me whom the woman in the Bar at the Folies-Bergere disengages looks, as Manet intended the viewer’s participation. I can see in the reflection from the wall glass behind that I look into her eyes. She does not engage mine, appearing rather uncomfortable. The reflection behind seems to show movement, but her figure affront is static. Her head tilts unobservedly to the side, and she pushes her palms against the marble counter in nervous reaction. Her cheeks swell rouge, brighter than her blush, but I suppose I can’t say it’s because of my dashing physical charm. Her eye shows a twitching movement, in repulsion, or nervous tick. My raging mustache and under the lip growth could not be objects of seducement, contrary to Griselda Pollack’s suggestion of sexual proposition. What statement would the artist intend having all viewers alike experiencing such treatment? I suggest that it is a social commentary rather, about individuals’ perspectives.
The plane of the bar with libations and décor seems to be my paradigm if I am to be the participant. They are detailed in firmer line depiction, being somewhat realistic. I see what the bartender sees through the mirror. Her world is better expressed through impressionistic substance. The feet of a trapeze artist dangle on the top left side, and individuals seem a sea whose roar beckons the woman. She is detached from the action, in solitude, though the wine bottles and oranges keep her company. I imagine the words uttered. I’m the artist of the painting probing for understanding of her character, having observed and now satisfying inquiry about her. The artist’s signature is on a wine bottle, establishing himself within the man’s paradigm as an observer of this social scene. He sees through her common vernacular. He knows her routine, and simplicity of life, wondering how he can portray the woman to his understanding of her. He supposes the viewer’s reception and tries to increase it further with his message. He sees her social desires, self-appreciating motives, and basic insecurity resultant. She is a bartender within life’s strains, evident in her packaged presentation as the wine bottles on the counter. This man seems to have a world not easily harnessed in her thoughts, knowing her, perhaps too well. He asks peculiar questions more intense than small talk, touching not on gossip or familiar conversation. The conversation grows uncomfortable as his frustration in her identityless role becomes clearer. She has built herself up as a commodity, and she notices the redundancy of her character compared to his inquisitive mind. He sees the frivolity of the trapeze artist, the social drinkers, and unfulfilled yearning desires, and wonders how his land has lost its courage, partaking of meaningless distraction. Beautiful clothes that have held her social bearing draw little impression from this man, just material mimicking bar ornamentation replaced upon a body whose soul when probed reveals little depth and no mystery, or something similar he perhaps thinks. For through the arrangement of flowers on her dress, and well-kept attire does she display the identity which is her desired perception, but she is harnessed as the girdle to her waist, to the relative worth of society’s conception of her. Her eyes are upon the bar’s patrons, while his eyes are directed upon her the individual.
Had the figures been angled differently, had the lines crossed in different patterns, a different analysis of their characters could be drawn. The subtle indications may not immediately unveil the scenario, but the woman’s reactions to the man gently provoke introspection from the viewer, who is designed to be the cause of her reactions. The glass reflects angles different than from the front. “Many critics view the faults in the reflection to be fundamental to the painting as they show a double reality and meaning to the work .” I see through this man’s view, but judge from my own experience, determining the meaning of that double reality in my own way.
The final note in Manet’s career could be a statement of the luxuries and frivolity he experienced himself, for which he saw very differently by this time. The content of, The Luncheon on the Grass, would probably confirm Griselda Pollack’s supposition that a sexual proposition was uttered from his lips, but what about the double reality suggested by the artist, and the meaning that could be gleaned of a woman yearning group association?
I frequently encounter individuals’ motivations in my quotidian observations, and having studied personality types believe that Manet was expressing himself intuitively rather than displaying carnal impulses. I respond to his scenes of leisure by questioning the conception of actions, being never at ease in performance, but ever curious to connect deeper association to even trivial elements. Manet expressed more than frivolity in The Luncheon on the Grass, making a statement about the individuals, about the actions, about close observation in social commentary. The woman at the bar of Folies-Bergere appealed to my own observations of individuals’ formation of self-identities.
Manet, having allowed my entrance into this man’s head seems to have invited me to pull these observations from the image he created. He offering suggestions, and allowing me to piece it together how I like. I believe that The Bar at Folies-Bergere holds Manet’s personal intention, but placing the viewer as participant opens up interpretations however the double reality may take significance through a person’s experience.
1. “A Bar at Folies-Bergere,” Arts Heaven, http://www.artsheaven.com/edouard-manet-a-bar-at-the-folies-bergere.html (accessed April 4, 2011).
2. Moffat, Charles Alexander, The Importance of Manet’s Conceptualization in Olympia and The Bar at the Folies-Bergère, http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/manet/arthistory_manet.html (accessed April 4, 2011).
3. Shafe, Laurence, “Manet Modernity and Parisian Life,” History of Art, http://history-of-art.blogspot.com/2005/09/manet-modernity-and-parisian-life.html (accessed April 4, 2011).
4. Woodrow, Ross, “Reading Pictures: the Impossible Dream?,” http://www.acuads.com.au/conf2009/papers/woodrow.pdf (accessed April 4, 2011).