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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
French: Un bar aux Folies Bergère
ArtistÉdouard Manet
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions96 cm × 130 cm (37.8 in × 51.2 in)
LocationCourtauld Gallery, London

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (French: Un bar aux Folies Bergère) is a painting by Édouard Manet, considered to be his last major work. It was painted in 1882 and exhibited at the Paris Salon of that year. It depicts a scene in the Folies Bergère nightclub in Paris. The painting originally belonged to the composer Emmanuel Chabrier, a close friend of Manet, and hung over his piano. It is now in the Courtauld Gallery in London.



The painting exemplifies Manet's commitment to Realism in its detailed representation of a contemporary scene. Many features have puzzled critics but almost all of them have been shown to have a rationale, and the painting has been the subject of numerous popular and scholarly articles.[1][2]

The central figure stands before a mirror, although critics—accusing Manet of ignorance of perspective and alleging various impossibilities in the painting—have debated this point since the earliest reviews were published. In 2000, however, a photograph taken from a suitable point of view of a staged reconstruction was shown to reproduce the scene as painted by Manet.[3] According to this reconstruction, "the conversation that many have assumed was transpiring between the barmaid and gentleman is revealed to be an optical trick—the man stands outside the painter's field of vision, to the left, and looks away from the barmaid, rather than standing right in front of her."[3] As it appears, the observer should be standing to the right and closer to the bar than the man whose reflection appears at the right edge of the picture. This is an unusual departure from the central point of view usually assumed when viewing pictures drawn according to perspective.

Study for A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881)

Asserting the presence of the mirror has been crucial for many modern interpreters.[4] It provides a meaningful parallel with Las Meninas, a masterpiece by an artist Manet admired, Diego Velázquez. There has been a considerable development of this topic since Michel Foucault broached it in his book The Order of Things (1966).[5]

The art historian Jeffrey Meyers describes the intentional play on perspective and the apparent violation of the operations of mirrors: "Behind her, and extending for the entire length of the four-and-a-quarter-foot painting, is the gold frame of an enormous mirror. The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty has called a mirror 'the instrument of a universal magic that changes things into spectacles, spectacles into things, me into others, and others into me.' We, the viewers, stand opposite the barmaid on the other side of the counter and, looking at the reflection in the mirror, see exactly what she sees... A critic has noted that Manet's 'preliminary study shows her placed off to the right, whereas in the finished canvas she is very much the centre of attention.' Though Manet shifted her from the right to the center, he kept her reflection on the right. Seen in the mirror, she seems engaged with a customer; in full face, she's self-protectively withdrawn and remote."[6]

The painting is rich in details which provide clues to social class and milieu. The woman at the bar is a real person, known as Suzon, who worked at the Folies-Bergère in the early 1880s. For his painting, Manet posed her in his studio. By including a dish of oranges in the foreground, Manet identifies the barmaid as a prostitute, according to art historian Larry L. Ligo, who says that Manet habitually associated oranges with prostitution in his paintings.[7] T. J. Clark says that the barmaid is "intended to represent one of the prostitutes for which the Folies-Bergère was well-known", who is represented "as both a salesperson and a commodity—something to be purchased along with a drink."[7]

Other notable details include the pair of green feet in the upper left-hand corner, which belong to a trapeze artist who is performing above the restaurant's patrons. The beer bottles depicted are easily identified by the red triangle on the label as Bass Pale Ale, and the conspicuous presence of this British brand instead of German beer has been interpreted as documentation of anti-German sentiment in France in the decade after the Franco-Prussian War.[8]

Cultural references


The 1934 ballet Bar aux Folies-Bergère with choreography by Ninette de Valois and music of Chabrier was created from, and based around, Manet's painting.[9] The 1947 film The Private Affairs of Bel Ami faithfully references A Bar at the Folies-Bergère twenty nine minutes into the film with a look-alike actress, set and props as the main characters enter the establishment.

The painting was the inspiration of a song (possibly by Sydney Carter) in the popular theatre production The Lyric Revue, in London in 1951. The refrain went "Oh, how I long to be back in my dear Brittany [...] But fate has chosen me for the bar at the Folies-Bergères".

The painting The Bar (1954) by Australian artist John Brack, which depicts a comparatively grim and austere Melbourne bar-room scene, is an ironic reference to A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.[10]

In the 1988 Eddie Murphy film Coming to America, a spoof on the painting in which the barmaids are dark-skinned women in red dresses and there is a hamburger on a plate on the counter can be seen hanging at the McDowell residence.[11]

Canadian artist Jeff Wall makes reference to A Bar at the Folies-Bergère in his work Picture for Women (1979).[12][13] The Tate Modern wall text for Picture for Women, from the 2005–2006 exhibition Jeff Wall Photographs 1978–2004, outlines the influence of Manet's painting:

In Manet's painting, a barmaid gazes out of frame, observed by a shadowy male figure. The whole scene appears to be reflected in the mirror behind the bar, creating a complex web of viewpoints. Wall borrows the internal structure of the painting, and motifs such as the light bulbs that give it spatial depth. The figures are similarly reflected in a mirror, and the woman has the absorbed gaze and posture of Manet's barmaid, while the man is the artist himself. Though issues of the male gaze, particularly the power relationship between male artist and female model, and the viewer's role as onlooker, are implicit in Manet's painting, Wall updates the theme by positioning the camera at the centre of the work, so that it captures the act of making the image (the scene reflected in the mirror) and, at the same time, looks straight out at us.[14]

Adventure in Paris, a book in the popular British Oxford Reading Tree scheme for children, clearly references the painting in a scene where the children travel back to 19th-century Paris to enquire as to the whereabouts of the Eiffel Tower.

See also


References and sources



  1. ^ Malcolm Park, Ambiguity, and the Engagement of Spatial Illusion within the Surface of Manet's Paintings (PhD dissertation, University of New South Wales, Australia, 2001).
  2. ^ Thierry de Duve, "Intentionality and Art Historical Methodology: A Case Study". Nonsite.org Issue #6, July 1, 2012 [1] Archived 2017-11-08 at the Wayback Machine; builds and corrects previous work Thierry de Duve, How Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is Constructed, Critical Enquiry, Vol. 25, No. 1, Autumn 1998, pp. 136–168.
  3. ^ a b "Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergère: One Scholar's Perspective" Archived 2018-03-23 at the Wayback Machine, www.getty.edu. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  4. ^ Bradford R. Collins, ed., 12 Views of Manet's Bar, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996
  5. ^ Foucault has given a talk on Manet's Bar at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo on April 8, 1970. He had planned a book on Manet's painting and gave a series of lectures during 1970/1 but the project was abandoned; see Cahiers de L'Herne: Michel Foucault, March 2011
  6. ^ Jeffrey Meyers, Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt. New York: Harcourt, 2005. p. 77
  7. ^ a b Doris Lanier, Absinthe, the Cocaine of the Nineteenth Century: A History of the Hallucinogenic Drug and Its Effect on Artists and Writers in Europe and the United States, McFarland, 2004, pp. 102–103. ISBN 0786419679
  8. ^ Kenneth Bendiner, Food in Painting: From the Renaissance to the Present, Reaktion Books, 2004, pp. 73–74. ISBN 1861892136
  9. ^ Rambert, Marie. Quicksilver: an autobiography. Papermac (Macmillan Publishers Ltd), London, 1983, p157.
  10. ^ "The great art robbery". The Age. 14 April 2006. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2009.
  11. ^ ""Coming to America" visits Trump's old stomping grounds—and 1980s Williamsburg". Brick Underground. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  12. ^ "Tate Modern National Gallery, London UK; Jeff Wall Photographs 1978-2004". 21 October 2005. Archived from the original on 26 October 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2007.
  13. ^ Merritt, Naomi. "Manet's Mirror and Jeff Wall's Picture for Women: Reflection or Refraction?" Archived 2010-06-05 at the Wayback Machine Emaj (Electronic Melbourne Art Journal), Issue 4, 2009. Merritt discusses the role of the mirror in this work.
  14. ^ Gallery Guide text for the exhibition Jeff Wall Photographs 1978–2004, Tate Modern, London, 21 October 2005 to 8 January 2006 quoted in David Campany, "'A Theoretical Diagram in an Empty Classroom': Jeff Wall's Picture for Women", Oxford Art Journal 20.1 (2007): 12–14.


  • Gary Tinterow, et al. Manet/Velázquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003.
External videos
video icon Manet: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) at Smarthistory.