A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1881-82
oil on canvas
The Courtauld Gallery
The first exposure to this painting that I remember is from a print hanging in the seminar room of Seidlin Hall (English building). I wasn't a huge fan of the image, and now I believe it was because I didn't give it the attention it deserved.
The image is fascinating. We see the barmaid facing the viewer (customer) directly, placed in the center of the painting, yet she is not interacting with her customer, she appears alone and secluded, absorbed within herself, depressed despite the rich nightclub activities surround here (Manet' keeps thse in the reflection, possibly to keep them at an additional remove from the barmaid). We are not only presented with this solitary woman, as Manet has created another view in the mirror's reflection, where we see the barmaid leaning in and making contact with her customer. Manet often created images of urban leisure, focusing on the spectacle of higher society, while this painting takes this as its background subject we see him juxtapose it with the solitary and ordinary appearance of the barmaid. She is visually a part of her surroundings, merging with the still life of bootles and fruit on the bar. Her "wide hips, stong neck, and closely combed golden hair are echoed in the champagne bottles" (Stokstad 1027) The club itself was a well known elaborate variety show, with various attractions (note the legs of a trapeze artist in the upper left hand corner). One of the attractions was also the barmaids who were assumed to be clandestine barmaids (Getty exhib. 2007).
This painting continues to spark debate over visual inconsistencies, and discussion about Manet's intentions. An exhibition at the Getty in Los Angeles (Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 2007) focused on the questions surrounding the painting, stop by the website for further inquiry as well as audio from the curator and more.
The wonder of internet resources, and oh how I love great art museum websites, check out an X-ray of the painting.