Édouard Manet - A Bar at Folies Bergères

von Alexandra Tuschka


Do you know this? You don't really want to go out again - and suddenly you find yourself at a bar ordering drink after drink? Perhaps the pretty barmaid Suzon is to blame for this situation. Like the other ladies in the famous Parisian trendy bar in Folies-Bergère, Suzon is possibly available for a note or two for other pleasures as well.


But wait! There is something about this situation that irritates us. Behind Suzon there is a huge mirror that reveals some inconsistencies to us. We thought she was talking to us? But now we realise that she is talking to a man in a top hat on the right. She leans over to him invitingly - she only has a bored look for us. Wouldn't the bottles have to stand somewhere else if they were realistically mirrored? Why don't the objects cast shadows? In the mirror, the girl seems to have much more space behind the bar - in reality, the golden frame signals that the wall begins in a few centimetres behind her.

A study of this painting culminates in the question - are these inconsistencies due to the painter's incompetence or does the composition cleverly subordinate itself to the demands of aesthetic perception?


The choice of offering a glimpse into the bar spectacle through the large-format mirror may not always correspond to the natural laws of perspective, but as a result it reveals quite amusing motifs: for example, the legs of an athlete still protrude into the picture at the top left, who is apparently performing some tricks on the trapeze. The lady below has pulled out her binoculars and is watching animatedly.

This painting can be described as Manet's "old work". It was painted in the last two years before his early death at 51, which was due to an early, untreated syphilis infection.


Édouard Manet - A Bar at Folies-Bergère

Oil on canvas, 1882, 96 cm × 130 cm, Courtauld Institute of Art in London