Puzzle of

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Manet’s painting is a beautiful exploration of what it means to see and what it means to gaze.

The painting was displayed at the Getty Museum in 2007, and that website has a particularly good collection of art-critical analysis and public reactions.

For me, the gripping thing about this picture is how much it draws us into the barmaid’s head. Unlike the classical Venus or his earlier Olympia and Nana, the barmaid does not look at the viewer. The reflection in the mirror implies that the viewer is in the place of the man talking to her, and if the reflection were all we had to go by we’d think she was flirting with him, or at least paying attention.

But she isn’t. She’s inside *herself* — indeed, my first reaction is that she’s thinking that her feet hurt, and she’s leaning on the bar to take a little weight off them. She’s been described variously as cool, distant, weary, or sad — but the important thing IMHO is that she is presented as a person, that viewers try to get inside her head, we wonder what she’s thinking and feeling, in a way that is extremely rare in canonical Western art.

Source: the Courtauld Institute, London, which turns out to have a small but astounding collection.

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