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15 Intoxicating Facts About Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

The title A Bar at the Folies-Bergère might have you expecting a simple depiction of another night out in 19th century Paris. But Édouard Manet laced this 1882 masterpiece with mystery, from the ambiguous expression of its central figure to the smoke and mirrors of its execution. 

1. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is a grand sight to behold. 

Measuring in at 37.8 inches by 51.2 inches, it is a large piece. Moreover, Manet included curious details, like a woman peering through opera glasses, that force the viewer to imagine what might exist beyond the frame. 

2. It's set in a Parisian hot spot. 

Established in 1869, Folies-Bergère is more than a bar. It was a music hall where the upper middle class of Paris flocked for a wide array of spectacular entertainment, including ballet, cabaret, acrobatics, pantomime, operetta, and animal acts. As you might imagine with so much going on, the place was also a hang-out for artists seeking inspiration. 

3. It was not painted at the bar. 

Though Manet did several preparatory sketches on location, he worked on this massive masterpiece in the privacy of his studio

4. A trapeze artist hides almost out of frame. 

Look to the upper left corner of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and you'll notice a pair of green slippers at the ends of two pale legs, standing on a swing. These limbs belong to an acrobat performing for the wealthy guests of this extravagant bar. Just another night at Folies-Bergère! 

5. A contemporary beer makes a cameo. 

To the right of the bottle of red wine, you'll see a brown bottle with a red triangle on its label, which was the UK's first registered trademark. That's the logo for Bass Brewery, established in 1777 and still in production today.  

6. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère withstood accusations of flawed perspective. 

At first glance, you might think the balconies and grandness of the titular bar sit behind the becoming barmaid. But if you observe the bottles to her left and the woman turned away at her right, you'll see these are reflections from the mirror, the gold frame of which can be spotted behind her wrists. Confusion arose from this use of perspective. Is the viewer meant to be the mustachioed gentleman to the right? If so, the angles of the mirror seem off. Is it Manet's mistake? 

7. Its distinctive perspective sparked debate. 

Some say the potentially flawed perspective was meant to show us two sides of this woman's experience. In the reflection, she appears to lean in, being engaged and even potentially flirtatious with her customer. In the other reality, she is at best ambivalent to his presumed attentions. And if we're meant to stand in for the man, did Manet intend for us to empathize with her or him?  

8. The barmaid may be a prostitute. 

Nearly 20 years earlier Manet stirred controversy with The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia for their perceived display of prostitutes on the job, so he wouldn't have shied away from the subject matter. And it wouldn’t have been crazy to suggest that the famous bar’s workers were selling more than just refreshments—the writer Guy de Maupassant famously and none-too-subtly called Folies-Bergère's barmaids “vendors of drink and of love.” Some viewers have suggested this double life is what the painting’s mirror is actually reflecting. 

9. Manet painted her once more. 

Today we know her only as Suzon. She was an actual barmaid at Folies-Bergère, and that's likely where she met Manet. He also painted her portrait in a piece known today as Model for the barmaid of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, which can be found at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Dijon. 

10. The reflected intimacy might be a trick of the eye. 

Art historian Malcolm Park created a photographic reconstruction and diagram to map out where the barmaid, the top-hatted customer, and the viewer would have been in the actual bar. Park's findings indicated the viewer is not the man pictured, but a person coming from the right and therefore not reflected in the mirror. This perspective condenses the distance between the reflected man and woman, visually creating a false sense of intimacy in the mirror. Even this knowledge doesn't resolve the questions of Manet's emotional intentions. 

11. An earlier draft of the final painting offers a curious contrast. 

The preparatory sketch Le Bar Aux Folies-Bergère shows Manet initially tested a version where the barmaid was turned more clearly toward her customer, altering the perplexing perspective. 

12. X-rays revealed Manet made a major change during painting.

Scans showed Manet originally painted the barmaid with her arms crossed at her waist, her right hand holding her left forearm above the wrist. It's a pose that more closely mimicked the early sketch than the final piece, and seemed to suggest a more obvious vulnerability. 

13. Las Meninas might be an influence. 

Diego Velázquez's unusual royal portrait from 1656 also played with perspective in a way that's long inspired debate and interpretation. Manet was a noted admirer of the 17th century Spanish painter's works. Art historians suspect A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was his take on that strange and seemingly candid portrait. 

14. It was Manet's last major work. 

Manet's illustrious career was studded with groundbreaking works that bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism while sometimes courting controversy. When the Parisian art scene couldn't grasp his greatness, he spent his own money to fund his exhibitions. In 1882, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère made its debut at the prestigious Paris Salon. The artist's health was fading as he struggled to complete the piece that would become one of his most acclaimed. Manet died at age 51 the following April with A Bar at the Folies-Bergère back in his studio. 

15. This Paris scene lives in London. 

English industrialist Samuel Courtauld was an ardent art collector who donated a wealth of works to The Courtauld Gallery upon co-founding it in 1932. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is not only one of several Manet works the London museum boasts, but also one of its most famous pieces.

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Museum Discovers Classic Renaissance Painting Hidden in Its Own Collection
Andrea Mantegna circa 1475
Andrea Mantegna circa 1475
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A long-lost painting by a master artist of the Renaissance was recently rediscovered in the storeroom of an Italian museum near Milan, according to The Art Newspaper and The Wall Street Journal.

The painting in question, Andrea Mantegna’s 15th century The Resurrection of Christ, was found by a curator at an art museum in the city of Bergamo. The Accademia Carrara has been in possession of the Mantegna painting since the 19th century, but long ago discounted it as a copy. While working on a catalogue for the museum in March, Accademia Carrara curator Giovanni Valagussa took note of the tempera-on-panel work and began to investigate its origins.

Count Guglielmo Lochis purchased the painting in 1846, cataloguing it as an original Mantegna; it was bequeathed to the museum as part of his collection after his death in 1859. But decades later, other experts cast doubt on the originality of the work, first re-attributing it to the artist’s son, and later suggesting that it was a copy that was not even made in his workshop. The museum removed it from display sometime before 1912, and it has been in storage for more than a century.

A painting depicting Jesus rising from the dead while soldiers look on
The Resurrection of Christ
Andrea Mantegna, Accademia Carrara

Upon inspecting the painting, Valagussa suspected it was more than just a copy. The painting features a small cross at the bottom of the image that looked disconnected from the rest, and the structure of the back of the painting made it seem like it might be part of a larger work. Valagussa tracked down another Mantegna painting, Descent Into Limbo, that seemed to fit underneath—the paintings are likely two halves of one image that was cut apart.

The Accademia Carrara also conducted an infrared survey of The Resurrection of Christ, discovering that the artist drew nude figures first, then painted over them with images of clothed soldiers, a technique that Mantegna was known for.

A world expert on Mantegna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Keith Christiansen, did his own analysis and believes the painting in Bergamo to be an authentic, high-quality Mantegna. That means that the Accademia Carrara’s forgotten wood panel, previously insured for around $35,000, is probably worth between $25 million and $30 million.

The museum hopes to one day bring the two parts of the painting, The Resurrection of Christ and the privately owned Descent Into Limbo, together in an exhibition in the future.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

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USPS Is Issuing Its First Scratch-and-Sniff Stamps This Summer
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Summertime smells like sunscreen, barbecues, and—starting June 20, 2018—postage stamps. That's when the United States Postal Service debuts its first line of scratch-and-sniff stamps in Austin, Texas with perfumes meant to evoke "the sweet scent of summer."

The 10 stamps in the collection feature playful watercolor illustrations of popsicles by artist Margaret Berg. If the designs alone don't immediately transport you back to hot summer days spent chasing ice cream trucks, a few scratches and a whiff of the stamp should do the trick. If you're patient, you can also refrain from scratching and use them to mail a bit of summer nostalgia to your loved ones.

Since it was invented in the 1960s, scratch-and-sniff technology has been incorporated into photographs, posters, picture books, and countless kids' stickers.

The first-class mail "forever" stamps will be available in booklets of 20 for $10. You can preorder yours online before they're unveiled at the first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony at Austin's Thinkery children's museum next month.

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