Folies-Bergère Underpainting

I am recreating A Bar at the Folies-Bergere by Edouard Manet!

My dining room needs a painting. It has to be the right painting, and we (Allan and I) have spent a long time trying to figure out which painting that is.

We think A Bar at the Folies-Bergere by Edouard Manet is it.

Bar at the Folies Bergere by Edouard Manet
A Bar at the Folies Bergere, Edouard Manet, 1882

It was the last major work done by Manet, a French painter. Although he was part of the Impressionist group, this painting is done in realist style and was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882. The original painting hangs in The Courtauld Gallery in London where you can learn all about it.

It depicts a scene inside the Folies Bergère nightclub in Paris, a popular entertainment spot which still exists today.

Allan loves this painting, so I’m recreating it for our dining room. The first step is layout and block-in; called the grisaille, a gray, brown and white approximation of the shapes and values. My version is 48 inches tall by 60 inches wide, thus a considerable undertaking.

Bar at the Folies Bergere after Edouarde Manet grisaille underpainting
Grisaille underpainting, A Bar at the Folies Bergere, Marie Wise after Edouard Manet

Update: This painting was finished at last. Subsequently it was transformed into a wearable scarf through VIDA

The mystery of A Bar at the Folies Bergere has puzzled art critics and scholars for decades. It’s not possible to decipher it on a glance or even after careful scrutiny. I’m still discovering it.

The woman stands before a mirror, which reflects the audience watching what can only be described as a circus, given there is a trapeze artist hanging from the top left.

But the perspective is ambigious and off kilter. Critics have speculated if Manet did this intentionally. Is it a metaphor for society? The woman is of working class, yet the audience appears well dressed. The woman’s reflection shows she is talking to a gentleman, again well dressed. Is she engaged in conversation? If so, why does she look so tense, sad and vague?

It makes me wonder, is this painting about Manet looking at his subject looking back at him? Or is it about the woman interacting with the man? Or it it a metaphor for a society that favored the upper class but had little regard for working class barmaids. Perplexing.

The light is fleeting, the action is momentary, the reflection is clouded with smoke and mirrors. Color, texture, dimension and space all compete for attention, as if in a circus.

Life is a peculiar circus

The small vase detail is a painting I did for a friend, based on the vase in the actual painting.

Detail from glass vase in Bar at the Folies Bergere by Edouarde Manet