The Modern Woman: Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

The Modern Woman: Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Is modern life all it is cracked up to be? For nineteenth century painter Édouard Manet, there was a mismatch between the promise of excitement and the reality of living in a big city. In his last and perhaps greatest painting, he captures the bustling interior of one of the most prominent music halls of modern Paris, the Folies-Bergère. Amidst the chandeliers, champagne and chic crowd, you would expect all the characters of this scene to be having a sensational time: but the barmaid at its helm does not smile.

Manet was not alone in his quest to understand the sense of alienation in urban life. He was part of the first egalitarian art group, the Impressionists—with members including Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas—with whom he explored the essence of the modern condition. Pollock argues that Manet's depiction of this despondent barmaid remains powerfully relevant today—we are urged to seek out pleasure with others, yet we often feel alone and disconnected. The vacant stare of his working woman reflects back to us from the canvas, almost as if it were a mirror.

Time Period:

19th century