A Bar at the folies Bergere – this is reportedly Manet’s last major work that he painted and it is a very interesting piece but that conclusion may be influenced by the history of the bar folies Bergere. The reputation this bar held was that it was a great place to find a prostitute for the evening. It is this reputation and the captivating look Manet gave the barmaid that inspired me to describe this painting. The mirror behind the barmaid sets the atmosphere of the Bar.
Manet depictaed the patrons in typical Victorian dress, men in top hats and tails, women in very elegant but unrevealing dresses, all sitting around like polite society enjoying the atmosphere, the entertainment, which we can see little and their drinks of choice. While there are lesser lights shown in the reflection of the mirror scattered around the Bar to illuminate the room, the dominant place is held by the large crystal chandelier you can see just over the right shoulder of the barmaid. The size of the chandelier puts the crowd into perspective and keeps from taking attention away from the main focal point Manet wanted to highlight.
An interesting note to make is that this is not the only chandelier in the room. The fact that more than one can be seen in the mirror tells us that Manet used the different chandeliers to communicate the size of the room without allowing the room to dominate the painting. Every image reflected in the large mirror is out focus.
There is enough detail to identify what is taking place, the patrons and provide the right influence on his main subject which in turn leads us to understand her expression. Even the reflection of the barmaid is out of focus and off line as Manet seems to use that to depict a difference between the bar maid duties and what she is truly feeling. Her image is frumpy but she is shown engaging her lone customer, who seems a bit tipsy due to the red color Manet used for his nose, and she is handling her duties like a pro. She seems quite comfortable in handling her duties and being a part of the Bar’s employees though she may not be a prostitute. This is in great contrast to the actual image Manet painted of the barmaid, who is seen surrounded by the products of her trade- champagne, wine and other liqueur bottles, labels included. In front of her is a crystal vase holding what looks to be mandarin oranges but may be another fruit and beside that is a little glass with nicely cut flowers.
In contrast to the images in the mirror these are all in great focus and look life-like. The beauty of the barmaid is found in the simplicity Manet used to depict her. Her front buttoned dress elegantly displays her hourglass figure and the simple brass bracelet on her right arm compliments both and is not gaudy nor distracts from the overall beauty of the barmaid her only other piece of jewelry is a simple cameo necklace placed just below her neck, surrounded by the lace fabric adorning her coat. The lace goes from behind her neck down to her chest leaving her chest a bit exposed. This is not a trashy look that would have her patrons mistake her for the more risque employees of the Bar. Her ensemble is completed by a corsage that is placed front and center and which hides any cleavage that may be exposed by the cut of the dress.
This placement of the corsage also indicates that she is of a different class of employee than what the bar is noted for. What is captivating about this barmaid is her facial expression. In the mirrored image she looks at ease, comfortable and fully happy to be employed by the establishment but that is not the expression Manet gave her in reality. Her eyes, the way she holds her mouth and tilts her head all combine to demonstrate her true inner feelings. She does not want to be at that Bar. She wishes she could be miles away in a more respectful setting. She wants more from her life.
It is that look that makes the painting the master that it is as Manet captured the heart of the girl completely. That look inspired me to select that painting and maybe part of the decision was due to how much I relate to that barmaid. Not that I am a barmaid type girl but that I am just a normal girl who wants more for my life, just like she expresses in her look. This is why I believe that the best form of interpretation for this painting is the expressive format. This painting has every aspect making some sort of expression about the bar, Victorian life and the life in general.`