– [Beth] We’re in the Courtauld Galleries, looking at Manet’s Bar
at the Folies-Bergere. – [Steven] This is a
painting that takes place in a cafe-concert, a
bar with entertainment. But the entertainment was
a little more circus-like than we’re used to. – [Beth] You can get a sense
of that in the top left corner, where we see the calves
and feet of an acrobat. This was a place for
middle-class entertainment that was a little grittier. – [Steven] The painting at first
seems very straightforward, we seem to be looking at a woman who’s looking back at us, and there’s the entertainment
just behind her. But when we look a
little bit more closely, you notice that what we’re
seeing, in fact, is a reflection. She stands in front of a mirror. – [Beth] And one of the ways
I can see that most easily is by looking at the
gold frame of the mirror. – [Steven] The mirror is
a reminder that a canvas has for so long been seen as a way of reflecting the world in a true sense. Manet’s project is to undermine
that very old conceit. – [Beth] And I’m reminded
that we’re looking at a Manet immediately because of the gaze of the woman in the painting,
which is so forthright and so direct, but at the
same time so unreadable. And that reminds me of
earlier paintings by Manet, like Olympia or Le dejeuner sur l’herbe. Unlike his impressionist
colleagues, Manet is interested in the human figure in modern life. – [Steven] And Manet, who
had been such an inspiration for the impressionists,
is here also responding to the advances that they made. The openness of the
brushwork in the chandelier might remind us of Renoir’s painting of the Moulin de la Galette, for example. – [Steven] At the extreme
right we see the reflection of the back of the
woman that we’re facing, but we also see that she
is facing a male figure, who wears a top-hat, clearly
a patron of this cafe-concert. – [Beth] And he seems to be close to her, as though he is engaged in conversation, or asking for a drink. – [Steven] And so that must
be us, and at the same time, it can’t be us, because we’re
looking directly at her, and the reflection is off at the side. So clearly there is
some willful distortion on the part of the artist. – [Beth] We know that
there is willful distortion because we also have
sketches that Manet made that we can compare it to. – [Steven] Manet is
deliberately transforming his initial sketch in such a way as to upend our expectations
of what this painting should be showing us. – [Beth] This was in The Salon of 1882, and people who went to The Salon had expectations of paintings, and one of those expectations was that you could read the
painting, it was legible, you could understand your
relationship as the viewer to the figures in the
painting, and the relationship of the figures to one another. And Manet is confounding both of those. – [Steven] Which itself can be read as an aspect of modernity. This is all taking place
within a newer urban context, a new Paris that had
recently been reconstructed. Where people of different classes come into contact with each other. – [Beth] In the modern world, we tend to want to categorize people, it helps us to sort out
the world that we live in when we’re in an urban environment. And Manet is insistently refusing to give us a type of person that we can categorize with certainty. There was already an uncertainty and a danger around women in the city. So a woman at bar would
have been understood as being somewhat sexually available. – [Steven] If she was alone, and certainly if she was working there. So when we take on the
physical manifestation of the man with the top-hat
and we look directly at her, we put ourselves in the position
of the patron in this bar. The question of her availability to us is put front and center. – [Beth] Is she flirting with us? Is she keeping a kind of distant reserve? – [Steven] Manet has placed
her firmly on the other side of a marble slab, that seems impenetrable. – [Beth] And yet, if we
look at the reflection, there is a closeness there,
that seems very at odds with the distance that we
feel in front of the painting. – [Steven] The marble bar that
separates us from this woman has almost vanished in the
reflection at the extreme right. – [Beth] She’s unavailable
to us in that sensual way, but the bottles, and the
fruit, and the glasses, they’re painted in an
incredibly sensual way. – [Steven] So Manet is
denying us a closeness that we see in the reflection
behind us all across the cafe, where we see couples mingling. – [Beth] It makes us uncomfortable. What is our relationship? What will this interaction be like when we approach her and ask for a drink? – [Steven] Look at her eyes,
they seem to be at odds with the representation of the mouth. The mouth seems to have a
little bit of sneer to it, where the eyes feel sadder. – [Beth] In the sketch, she stands with her hands clasped
in front of her torso, but in the final painting Manet made her lean forward slightly by placing her hands on that bar. And although that makes us expect her to be a little bit closer to us, there still seems to be
a distance in her torso. So again that tension between
distance and closeness. – [Steven] Manet shows his
virtuosity, not only in the face, but also in the two
blossoms right before us. Or, for instance, in the cut
glass which has the fruit. – [Beth] Manet, as usual,
is drawing our attention to the fact that this
is paint on a canvas, an image which is flat. He’s denying that desire
for an illusion of reality that was also such an
important expectation of The Salon goer. There is some passages,
especially in the reflection, where all we are seeing
is just touches of blacks, and grays, and browns, and beiges, a quick loose handling of
paint that is a metaphor, I think, for the dynamism
and the sense of movement and energy in the new
modern city of Paris.