A Man Walks into a Bar: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

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Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882

A Man Walks Into a Bar...

No, this is not where I drop a cheesy pickup line or play the Tyler Farr hit. “A man walks into a bar” has been the tagline for jokes for years, but the sentence digs deeper. Bars have been gathering places for men for hundreds of years. Bars in colonial America acted as meeting places for political groups. Today, bars act as places to watch sporting events, socialize, and have fun. On the other side though, bars have also acted as places to drown ones sorrows because people equate alcohol with escaping reality. In my collection, “A Man Walks into a Bar…” I want to show the use of bars as a place to socialize and a place to cope, and the importance of bartenders in that setting.

The father of Impressionism is first on our bar (painting) hopping journey. Why? Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is the original bar painting. The painting shows the Father of Impressionism commitment to realism with his intricate attention to detail.

At first, your eyes go to the bartender who is waiting to take your order, but then you notice all of the little details Manet included. Manet once said, “You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real.” Manet struggles with this idea because there are so many other parts to the painting, that the viewer loses focus on the bartender. Not only are there bottles and other objects, but when the viewer looks in the mirror, they find a crowd of people. You sense the movement of the people, but at the same time, the bartender appears frozen.

The reflection of the mirror on the wall adds depth to the painting, while also bringing a festive attitude of the fête going on. The bartender was actually a real woman named Suzon, who worked at the famous nightclub in Paris in the 1880s. She actually posed for him in his studio. Still, one cannot help but create a new story for the bartender. She is pretty; she has a natural beauty to her. She is working as a bartender, serving others, but hopes for more. She is youthful, just like the people on the dance floor. Still, she appears lonely, even though the bar is full. She wants to be on the other side of the bar, dancing with the other people. She would probably like to have a drink herself, but she follows the rules and refrains from joining in on the fun.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is the classic bar painting, not only because it is one of the earliest representations of a bar, but also because it evokes the many emotions in a bar such as the loneliness of the bartender, the excitement of the dancing people, and commotion of city life in Paris during the 1880s.

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