Leading Ladies: The Bar at the Folies-Bergeres

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Leading Ladies
Strong Women in Art
Curated by Katie Sloan

Edouard Manet, The Bar at the Folies-Bergeres, 1881-82

Edouard Manet was on of the leaders in the transition from realism to impressionism. His style was new and fresh during his time and marked him as a talented artist. Manet was know for painting Parisian life. The Bar at the Folies-Bergeres was Manet's last major work, and was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882. Before Manet painted The Bar at the Folies-Bergeres, he had made several sketches of the scene, which have been saved and can be viewed today. These sketches he had made while in the bar, but the final painting was finished in his studio where he set up a bar scene and had a model stand behind it. 

The bar called the Folies-Bergere and was a nightclub in Paris. The bar was known for men being able to call on prostitutes. However, the bar also doubled for concerts and circus acts. It was an entertaining way for the people of Paris to spend their nights. In the painting the viewer can see the many people in the reflection of the mirror, watching some kind of circus performance, as an acrobat's feet can be seen in the top left corner. The barmaid featured in the painting is Suzon. Although the painting is filled with people Suzon seems distant and alone, placed behind a bar, distant from everything going on. Her face seems melancholy, and she seems like she does not want to be there. A locket around her neck suggests that she has a love somewhere else, that maybe she wishes to be with instead of being at the bar. In the reflection, the viewer can see that a man is talking to Suzon. There is no suggestion as to who this man might be, other than a customer at the bar. Suzon's reflection is off to the right, which in reality would not be this way, but directly behind her. 

Suzon, was in real life a woman who in fact worked at the bar. Manet asked her to model for the painting in his studio. He set up a fake bar and had her stand behind it. He set up glass bottles and other objects in order to make the scene similar to the bar. However the painting is not meant to be realistic, but impressionistic which explains why her reflection is not in the right place. 

Without Suzon, the inspiration for the painting would not have been there. Her face become a memorable one in art. This is a well known Manet painting, which makes Suzon another leading lady in art, not only in her real life but in the painting itself, being the main focus in the painting.

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