Sunday, June 17, 2007

Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère" Graces the Getty

Édouard Manet
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (detail) 1882
Oil on canvas
37 13/16 x 51 3/16 in.
The Samuel Courtauld Trust, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London

Manet's magnificent and mysterious "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère" graces the Getty Museum in Brentwood until September 9th, 2007. Normally housed at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London in the imposing Somerset House, we are fortunate to be able to view the painting in Los Angeles.

Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère" is painted in rich buttery strokes of oil paint. The physicality of the pigment gives tangible visual weight to a scene which combines the still presence of the barmaid with the flickering mystery of the mirror behind the bar.

The Getty has placed the work in a room with a mirror on the opposite wall to help spur a dialogue between viewer and painting. We are asked a series of provacative questions on the Getty's webpage on Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère" at the Getty:

• How are we to characterize the barmaid's expression?
• What is the nature of the viewer's relationship to the barmaid?
• What is happening between the barmaid and the man reflected in the mirror?
• If we see the man's reflection in the mirror, why isn't his figure also visible in front of the bar?
• Why is there no indication in the mirror of the balcony walkway on which we imagine the man, or ourselves, to be standing?
• Why are the reflections of the figures and still life objects displaced so far to the right?

The Getty has placed the work in a room with a mirror on the opposite wall to help spur a dialogue between viewer and painting.

Few paintings have influenced my artistic process more than Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère". While studying in London I spent hours in front of the work, hoping if I gazed at the painting long enough that it would divulge its secrets.

The Getty seems to sum up my own thoughts on the work:
"The more one reflects on Manet's painting, the more difficult it becomes to project a straightforward narrative onto it, and the more conscious and uncertain we become of our position as spectators. At once invoking and undermining the traditional notion of painting-as-mirror, Manet's work becomes a profound interrogation of the act of looking itself."

If you can't find me in my studio this summer, look for me at the Getty still gazing at Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère" in a rich process of discovery and inspiration.

More at:
Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère" at the Getty
The Courtauld Collection Audiofile on Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère"


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