Bar at the Folies Bergere by Edouard Manet (1882)

This is a stunning painting by an artist who did much to introduce “modernity” to visual art in his lifetime and yet remained uncelebrated until after his death.

The truth was, when you study Manet’s life, you understand he was a total pain in the ass. Which perhaps explains some of why people did not give him the credit he deserved, unlike Monet or Degas, who seem to have been more reasonable in dealing with other humans and especially non-artists.

But this painting is a complex series of visual puzzles. Of course, the girl waiting the bar: a lovely young woman with a pensive expression on her face. In the mirror (to her left, our right) her reflection confronts a man in a top hat who remains unseen in the “real” view.

The bottles and glasses on the bar, the fruit in the compote, the flowers in her and in the vase before her are genuinely stunning in their simple accuracy and detail. The reflection in the mirror, of the chandeliers, the crowds, the gay world of the Third Republic nightspot are hazy and electric (no pun) — but we focus on the lonely girl, instead.


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