Edouard Manet, The Bar at the Folies-Bergere

The Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1882)
Edouard Manet
The Samuel Courtauld Trust, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London

The Bar at the Folies-Bergere is Manet's last masterpiece. A dedicated urbanite to the very end, Manet recreated the fashionable world he knew and loved best, in all its splendor, and its failures. The barmaid looks out with the sad dignity of the exploited. Like the exquisite vase flowers on the bar, she seems to have been plucked and set before the viewer. The customer conversing with her is reflected in the mirror but his bodily presence is missing. This is not an error. We, the viewers are actually in the position the customer would rightly occupy, and so we take his place. But the real surprise of this masterpiece is the pair of feet in little green boots in the left upper corner of the painting. It is the reflection of a trapeze act. The Folies-Bergere was a Parisian music hall that pioneered "variety" entertainment and its promenades were frequented by prostitutes. The painting has been interpreted as a modern paraphrasing of 'Las Meninas' by Diego Velázquez.