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Manet Painting Essay, Research Paper
Before attempting to anaylse the significance of gender within Edouard Manet+s work entitled |A Bar at the Follies-BergereX, one must first identify , and note, the somewhat colorful events which occurred within the artist life, and note the way in which they must have undoubtedly prejudiced his work.
Born in France in 1832, Manet was raised by his parents Auguste and Eugenie-Desiree; a society couple, who’s social standing resulted from Auguste+s successful career in the Ministry of Justice , Paris. Indeed, so successful was Auguste in his chosen field that upon his retirement he was awarded the Legion of Honor. It is thought by many that the importance of Auguste+s role in both society and the ministry actually intimidated the young Manet, who constantly aspired throughout his adult life, to gain the same level of reverence as that which his father possessed.
In fact so intrinsic is Manet+s personal background to the analysis of the artists treatment of gender within his work, that any substantial theory concerning this subject must, be founded upon a detailed study of the artists formative years. Such a personal focus as this, allows the particularities found within Manet+s relationships with women to become apparent, and therefore, in part, aids the understanding of the complex interactionalism found between the characters within his painted scenes.
However, it is the actions of the artists youth which many theorists believe is the key to understanding the ambiguous portrayal of woman within his painting of |A Bar at the Follies-BergereX. It was during the late 1850+s when Manet was serving as a naval cadet in Rio de Janeiro, that he met a number of slave girls, Manet had openly admitted in letters to his friends the extend to which he found their tropical beauty alluring. Yet, is was not until Manet returned to France that he reveled the true extent of his relationships with these girls, and confessed to the fact that they allowed his time there to be served in relative sexual promiscuity. But, why should such behavior, which it must be noted, would have been considered as being quite normal for a gentleman such as Manet, be such an intrinsic facet in the determination of his portrayal of women within his works?
The answer lies in the artists life long ill-health, it was in fact Manet himself who first diagnosed; although now medically proven to be wrong that the physical pain from which he suffered on a daily basis was the result of a syphilic virus contracted during one of his aforementioned youthful encounters, a misconception which haunted the artist throughout his life . Taking this point into consideration, one must therefore consider the psychological effects that Manet+s own feelings of guilt and regret concerning the cause of his illness, and consider the effects that it had upon his life and his work, and thus in turn the way in which those feelings influenced his view of women as a whole, but particularly those of ill-repute.
It is even considered by some that Manet+s final piece was composed almost in the form of an epitaph to his own life; and as such, was a painting which assumed the right to be so controversial in content that it pushed at the very boundaries of conventionalism. Indeed, to the theorist Mary Mathews Gedo in her essay entitled Looking at Art from the Inside Out+ , Manet has even confronted the issue of his immanent death, to the point of painting the central figure of the barmaid after the figure of Christ Rising from the Tomb+ by Fra Angelico, which proceeds to raise a number of challenging questions in the mind of the viewer.
Whilst Gedo does acknowledge that Manet had always wished to paint this Biblical scene as an exercise of his talent, the application of such a stance to that of a prostitute in a Parisian bar is in itself shocking, and therefore illuminates the work as nothing less than a painting which exhibits complete defiance to all that was considered appropriate and indeed, acceptable in the eyes of the Academy. This however, it can be argued was Manet+s wish. For, by 1882, after years of constant rejection by the critical elite, Manet+s frustration toward the Academy was at its peak, the very sense of having, (what he considered) to be his best work dismissed so entirely, along with his self inflicted sense of failure when comparing the achievements his own life when compared to his Fathers success, drove Manet to paint a piece which acted not only as a final contemplation for the Academy but also as a self analytical challenge to the viewing public. For, who else but a dying man would!
have dared to question societies treatment of gender by substituting Christ with the figure of a young girl?
It is not until one has recognized the importance of the inter-personal influences behind Manet+s painting that one can then truthfully analyze the painting itself. |The Bar at the Follies-BergereX, would at first, appear to be a commentary upon the professional life of a Parisian barmaid, shown through her working relationship with the top-hated gentleman, (seen at the far left of the painting), however, the iconographic message that Manet was attempting to convey through this painting can be identified as being far more complex than a mere bar transaction.
In fact, it would be a valid presumption, to identify that the painting is in fact, centered around three principle characters, as opposed to the apparent two.
It is the identification of this third integral character, that being the reflection of the bar maid in the mirror behind the bar, which provides the key to the understanding of Manet+s intentions. The very inclusion of this figure by the artist demands nothing less from the viewer than a full analysis of the significance of the painting as a whole. For example, the very fact that the third figure can rightfully claim her own identity is not at first obviously apparent. It is not until the viewer is stood in front of the painting for any length of qualitative time that the inconsistency between the physical positioning of the actual bar maid, and her reflection, becomes apparent, for the geographical positioning of the two figures is so contradictory that there is no rational argument which could be upheld to associate the two figures so that they maybe considered as one and the same.
After such a prime example of compositional artistry, one can again be detracted from the very essence of Manet+s intentions in reference to his subject matter, by concentrating merely on his application of pain rather than his theory. Manet has clearly meant the viewer to use this identification of identify three main characters as an initiation for the viewers continued analysis of the painting rather than the acceptance of it as mere visual entertainment. Indeed Manet intend s that within this scene the viewer should adopt himself, irrespective of his or her actual gender, into that of a masculine role when undertaking an evaluation of this work.
Whilst such an assumption on the artist part concerning the level of the viewers empathetic ability would at first appear to determine that Manet painted this piece specifically for contemplation of the intelligence, his exhibition of talent in terms of the sensitivity with which he paints the facial expressions of the central characters, allows his sociological observations to be accessed by the least discerning of art viewers.
Manet+s empathetic formulation of this piece is expressed further by his granting to the audience of a male persona, which is expressed through the positioning of the male figure+s image so that it reflects that of the viewers own as he stands in front of the piece. This is merely the first of Manet+s articulations of his theory which compels the viewer to identify himself as the cause of the barmaids apparent unhappiness, as he is portrayed as the dubiously threatening character who presides over the scene.
Throughout his understanding and accurate conveyance of the bar maids emotional sensibilities shown through the sorrowful look found within the girls barmaids eyes, and her apparent uncomfortability with her social position and surroundings, Manet initiates nothing less than a sense of guilt within the viewers mind ,even to that of a modern audience. However, this confrontational scheme of demanding audience identification is not nearly a matter of gender, as, the appeal within the barmaids eyes is so moving that the viewer cannot fail to be moved by her plight, indeed it is clear that Manet intended women too be affected by this self analytical composition. For by his appointment of the role of oppressor to any viewer irrespective of sex, all contemporary viewers of this piece were driven to assess the part that they themselves played in the society which governed the barmaids fate. By giving the lower classes of women; who had until this point been considered as morally fa!
llen, an identity, in the image of the young bar maid, society was now forced to recognize these women as individuals, who were forced into prostitution through the inequalities of society, rather being subjects of their natural fate.
The successful formulation of this painting by Manet was reliant upon societies acceptance of its guilt, in terms of both the question of class, and the recognition of the physical and emotional dominance of men over women.
However, the pyshcoanalytical questions which Manet was attempting to raise through this painting appear increasingly boundless as one continues to study the piece in depth, to the point that Manet himself is represented within the image of one of the principle characters within the scene. For, Manet+s own personification of himself within the reflected image of the bar maid can clearly be identified. As, the comparison between the barmaids true identity and that of her working persona can clearly be paralled to the way in which the artist himself hid the extend of his physical suffering from his friends and associates, in favour of holding gay dinner parties at his studio which he often used as a salon. Just as Manet wished to liberate the barmaid from her dubious profession, could Manet have been finally admitting to his own disguise?
It is possible too that Manet+s affinity with his mother may have enabled him to have identified himself with this female character more easily, even to the point where he appears to feel a certain kinship with those women, who, like himself suffered the repercussions of their sexual behavior, and thus were tainted for life.
The question of the true intellectualism behind Manet+s complex composition of this painting, in terms of social and personal relevance, must be raised, as, for such a emotive piece to have been conceived it would surely have to have been the work of a great master painter, which to this day it is considered that Manet was not, therefore one must then question the credibility of the application of modern day anyalsis to this piece.
However, the clarity with which one can identify the deliberate questions concerning gender which Manet raises within the painting compels one to defend the artist and to thus consider that his genius has failed, to this day, to be recognised. One possible reason or such a dismissal by society may be attributed to the negative repercussions of the viewers psychological set+. A viewers set is determined by his preconceived opinions concerning an artist or an artist work, which, in turn prevents an honest and objective overview of the artist from ever actually being achieved. Not only does the preconception surrounding the favouirability of the artist govern the extend to which he will be accepted by the viewing public as a whole, but the social and ethical fashions of the time will also have a substantial effect upon the way in which the viewer perceives the piece.
Thus, when one considers the moral climate of Nineteenth century Europe (albeit, hypocritical to modern sensibilities), one can identify that the controversial subject matter that Manet has centered this piece around, and his questioning of the sexual degradation that women were subject to as a result of male dominated fiance, would have been controversial to the point were a contemporary audience would have automatically dismissed it, choosing to believe that the artists lacked talent, rather than recognising his forthopught.
However, it would appear that Manet had a heightened awareness of his viewers psychology and was therefore able to ensure that he devised a composition which would touch at the sensibilities of all of its viewers., For, although Manet may have been ignorant of the viewers set ,in the terms that an artist today would refer to clinical studies, Manet has clearly exhibited a high level of awareness concerning the positive aspects of such a sensibility, that being the audiences power to empathise.
Since the first Greek tragedies, artists have been aware of the ability of the viewing audience to associate him or her self with the plight of the characters displayed before them, Manet too relied upon the viewers natural reaction to cast him or her self in the role of the barmaid, for his painting to be understood, even the very title of the piece, albeit a simple description, instantly transports the viewer into the scene, and initiates the pre-concieved images that each viewer has concerning the setting for the piece.
Every aspect of Manet+s painting is identifiably engineered in such a way as to provoke and confront the individual who stands before it. Not only is this painting an example of a highly structured collation of social observations but is a piece which was intended to identify the plight of those members of society who had fallen prey to the hypocritical social injustices of contemporary society, Manet+s painting, although embracing the social questions which were particularly relevant to Nineteenth century society, is , in fact so successful in its provocation of audience response, that one could fairly identify that the self analytical essence of the piece, has is in no way been diluted by the passage of time, and still remains relevant some hundred years later.
The very compositional structure of the painting, that being that it is based upon the continual reflection of mirrored glass, and the momentary images of life that they reflect, can be translated as being a metaphor, specifically designed by Manet, by which he demanded that the somewhat cynical viewing public should invert their critical snobbery and thus in turn start to question their own treatment of others.
Just as every worldly action is recorded by the passing of time, the mirror lining the walls of the upper gallery of the bar reflect images and reflections back and forth with the mirror positioned behind the barmaid. The positioning of these mirrors in such a way enables the viewer to observe the seemly infinite number of scenes and movements over the course of time within the bar. Such a ceaseless image, as the reflection back and forth between mirrors, can be identified as yet another symbol of the paintings relevancy to any society, irrespective of physical space or time.
In the conclusion of any analysis concerning the poignancy of Manet+s painting, it is imperative to identify the true level of recognition that the artist exhibits toward viewer empathy, and to recognize that the understanding of this piece is entirely reliant upon the viewers ability to associate him or her self with the male figure within the scene.
>From observations of Manet+s original study for his work entitled | A Bar at the Follies-BergereX, painted in 1881, one can readily identify that between the period of designing the first composition for his study, and the completion of the work which hangs in London in the present day, that Manet underwent a number of formulative changes in his thought process concerning the compositional structure of his work.
For example, it is clearly identifiable that Manet had in his final piece chosen to distort the image of the barmaid so that the two figures are unquestionably juxtaposed, rather than one being a mere reproduction of the original.
Indeed, the very physical appearance of the principle character has been irreconcilably altered by the artist, from the original form of a mature assertive woman, to that where the barmaid appears little more than a innocent girl.
And thus, there can be no dispute that every source within the painting that is identified and held open for analysis by contemporary theoretic thought , was designed specifically by the artist with the direct intention that it should be identified and considered. The forethought with which the artist was blessed is so successfully channeled by the artists hand into his art that the one thought which remains with the viewer long after leaving the presence of the painting, is the feeling of guilt and responsibility, which in turn acts as a predetermined force in the general recognition of the artist perceptive genius.
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