A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
There is much to admire and love in Manet’s work, the complexities of his life, and the last canvas he left us – A Bar at the Folies -Bergère.
He was a rebel and from an early age had to fight against the preordained order of his family and the traditional art establishment to find his own voice as an artist. Born into a wealthy family, he had to overcome the overbearing puritanical influence of his civil servant father who wanted him to study law or to become a naval officer. He was not interested in a position in the traditional Ecoles des Beaux Arts, and tired of the classical teaching of his initial teacher, with whom he eventually parted ways.
What I love most about his work is that he painted in a realist style. He was interested in the life around him and in capturing the present moment. Unlike the impressionists, which he influenced greatly, he used the color black to great affect. It seems he was less interested in the attributes of light, which when coupled with the use of black, gives his paintings a more solid, photographic type of image. He was interested in the details of his surroundings, especially in his later works. This produced images that are clearly of a particular place at a particular moment.
Manet’s final large canvas, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, was completed the year before his death. The crowds, the party and gaiety, everything he loved in his life in Paris, is reflected back to him in the painting. Who is this women, the bar maid looking out at us, and who is the gentleman in the upper right corner of the painting? Manet knew he was gravely ill when he managed to complete this painting. What was he thinking as he struggled to complete it?
The painting itself is impressive , over 4 ft by 5 ft in size. When I saw it at the Courtauld Gallery it was in an intimate space and it seemed even larger. It glowed like a wall of jewels, emerald green with all the bottles and color and reflections. If you find yourself in London, and can make time away from the other larger museums and attractions, check out the Courtauld. They also have an excellent collection of early 20th century art.