“A Bar at the Folies-Bergere” by Edouard Manet

Subject: Art
Pages: 4
Words: 872
Reading time:
3 min
Study level: College

Introduction

Painted in 1881 at a time when the impressionist movement was spawning into modernism, Edouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergere provides a striking glimpse into Parisian social life towards the end of the 19th century. It was chosen due to its sensory triggers. There are few quality works that are able to emit sounds that resonate and conjure up images and constructions of thought as this piece does. As this discussion will demonstrate, the artistic form, subject matter and content of the piece were both collective and effective in the general presentation of it.

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Artistic Form

The painting is centred upon a large female figure, whose image dominates roughly half the entirety of it. Almost perfectly centred, she stands by the bar with a mirror in the background and has objects such as a bowl of food and two roses in front of her. There are also a number of bottles of alcohol reflecting in the mirror. The colouring and complexion could be considered very murky, with the exception of the orange colour in the bowl of food which tends to be extremely visible. Particularly in the background, the oil brush strokes appear to be very thick and butter-like – yet they still manage to give the painting an ability to retain a symmetrical balance of space.

Subject Matter

The main representation that the work portrays is that of a social evening environment in old-time Paris, a time that feels (due to the clothes in which the barmaid is wearing) many generations ago. The central character is a barmaid who is standing there working, and appears to be very withdrawn. This aspect can be drawn from the observance of her facial expressions and the way her hands are by her side. One can almost hear the background chatter and various echoing sounds that would have been going on at that exact time. The unknown characters in the background could be from a large range of social stereotypes, and though their faces remain unseen, the viewer can still invoke characterizations of them.

Content

Within the same setting, Monet has successfully communicated the feeling of isolation to the viewer. Incorporating a mood of melancholy and bleakness (through colour), he produces an underlying message that perhaps the barmaid is discontent with her profession. The fact that she does not even have a reflection of herself in the mirror raises the notion of identity and perhaps realizes that the barmaid could have lost her sense of self.

She may feel left out and robotic within her occupation, and the necklace around her neck could be a symbolic token of her life outside of work. Nevertheless, is would appear that Monet is generally trying to form an image of modern everyday life within his own time period. Simply put, it is a representation of a regular woman with a commonly regular job, but with the incapacity to enjoy the scenery around her.

Participation

Upon first glimpse, my initial perception of the painting was the observation of a peach-faced woman standing at a bar with a neutral facial expression. She wore clothes that look like they are from an era long ago, and one might presume the work to be set somewhere within the 19th century. It was not until quite some time after the first viewing that I noticed the mirror in the background was in fact reflecting an entire lively room full of other people. Then, once again, it took another couple views to realize that she did not even have a reflection at all. This is where the general assumption that she may feel isolated had come from.

I would agree that the participation and analysis of a work of art certainly does enhance it. It’s as simple as deconstructing and dissecting the work and noticing different things about it each time you question it. Repeated viewings of the work are also vital as it is easy for ones mind to miss the underlying aspects of each symbol, colour and shape. This particular piece, with its many mysterious secrets, is a pure example of that.

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Conclusion

Each aspect of the painting compliments the other in such a way that it retains a consistently shallow mood as the one previously discussed. The artistic form, content and subject matter all correlate to produce the desired meaning – a lively scene with just one person left out – the lowly and mysterious barmaid.

The viewer is left with the raising of the question “who is she?” This evokes a feeling of curiosity, and reinstates the conclusion that the content of the work is complimented by its artistic form and subject matter, through the depressive mood in which it creates. Not only this, it also makes one feel pity for the main character which personalizes the painting and gets the viewer involved and participating and interacting with it.

Lastly, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is effective in realizing that such a piece of work as this enables ones mind to develop and foster the enhancement of art interpretation skills. This painting is generally full of social ideals and notions of identity, that it could be near impossible to absorb the entire piece on just the first viewing.