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

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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.

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Griselda Pollock is Professor of Social and Critical Histories of Art at the University of Leeds. Trained as an historian and art historian with an initial focus on nineteenth century European modernity, she also works in cultural and film studies. Known for her longstanding work reshaping art history to acknowledge the creativity of women and artists from across all cultures, her major books include Old Mistresses: Women, Art & Ideology  (1981 and 2013) and Vision and Difference (1988 and 2003) and Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art's Histories (1999) she has most recently completed two monographs: Charlotte Salomon and the Theatre of Memory (Yale 2018) and The Case against "Van Gogh" (Thames & Hudson 2018). She also writes on contemporary art and creates exhibitions such as Art in the Time-Space of Memory and Migration; Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, and Bracha Ettinger in the Freud Museum (Freud Museum and Wild Pansy Press, 2013). She is currently writing a feminist analysis of Marilyn Monroe.

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