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Edouard Manet(A) Essay, Research Paper

Edouard ManetBefore attempting to anaylse the significance of gender within Edouard Manet+s work entitled |A Bar atthe Folies-BergereX, one must first identify , and note, the somewhat colourful events which occurredwithin 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 Legionof Honor. It is thought by many that the importance of Auguste+s role in both society and the ministryactually intimidated the young Manet, who constantly aspired throughout his adult life, to gain the samelevel 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 genderwithin his work, that any substantial theory concerning this subject must, be founded upon a detailedstudy of the artists formative years. Such a personal focus as this, allows the particularities foundwithin Manet+s relationships with women to become apparent, and therefore, in part, aids theunderstanding 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 understandingthe ambiguous portrayal of woman within his painting of |A Bar at the Folies-BergereX. It was during thelate 1850+s when Manet was serving as a naval cadet in Rio de Janeiro, that he met a number of slavegirls, Manet had openly admitted in letters to his friends the extend to which he found their tropicalbeauty alluring. Yet, is was not until Manet returned to France that he reveled the true extent of hisrelationships with these girls, and confessedto the fact that they allowed his time there to be served inrelative sexual promiscuity. But, why should such behavior, which it must be noted, would have beenconsidered as being quite normal for a gentleman such as Manet, be such an intrinsic facet in thedetermination 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 basiswas the result of a syphillic virus contracted during one of his aforementioned youthful encounters, amisconception which haunted the artist throughout his life . Taking this point into consideration, onemust therefore consider the psychological effects that Manet+s own feelings of guilt and regretconcerning the cause of his illness, and consider the effects that it had upon his life and his work, andthus in turn the way in which those feelings influenced his view of women as a whole, but particularlythose of ill-repute. It is even considered by some that Manet+s final piece was composed almost in the form of an epitaph tohis own life; and as such, was a painting which assumed the right to be so controversial in content thatit pushed at the very boundaries of conventionalism. Indeed, to the theorist mary Mathews Gedo in heressay entitled Looking at Art from the Inside Out+ , Manet has even confronted the issue of his immanentdeath, 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 theviewer. Whilst Gedo does acknowledge that Manet had always wished to paint this Biblical scene as an exercise ofhis talent, the application of such a stance to that of a prostitute in a Parisian bar is in itselfshocking, and therefore illuminates the work as nothing less than a painting which exhibits completedefiance to all that was considered appropriate and indeed, acceptable in the eyes of the Academy. Thishowever, it can be argued was Manet+s wish. For, by 1882, after years of constant rejection by thecritical elite, Manet+s frustration toward the Academy was at its peak, the very sense of having, (whathe considered) to be his best work dismissed so entirely, along with his self inflicted sense of failurewhen comparing the achievements his own life when compared to his Fathers success, drove Manet to paint apiece which acted not only as a final contemplation for the Academy but also as a self analyticalchallenge 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 younggirl?It is not until one has recognised the importance of the inter-personal influences behind Manet+spainting that one can then truthfully analyse the painting itself. |The Bar at the Folies-BergereX,would at first, appear to be a commentary upon the professional life of a Parisian barmaid, shown throughher 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 asbeing 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 threeprinciple characters, as opposed to the apparent two. It is the identification of this third integral character, that being the reflection of the bar maid inthe mirror behind the bar, which provides the key to the understanding of Manet+s intentions. The veryinclusion of this figure by the artist demands nothing less from the viewer than a full analysis of thesignificance of the painting as a whole. For example, the very fact that the third figure can rightfullyclaim her own identity is not at first obviously apparent. It is not until the viewer is stood in frontof the painting for any length of qualitative time that the inconsistency between the physicalpositioning of the actual bar maid, and her reflection, becomes apparent, for the geographicalpositioning of the two figures is so contradictory that there is no rational argument which could beupheld 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 ofManet+s intentions in reference to his subject matter, by concentrating merely on his application of painrather than his theory. Manet has clearly meant the viewer to use this identification of identify threemain characters as an initiation for the viewers continued analysis of the painting rather than theacceptance of it as mere visual entertainment. Indeed Manet intend s that within this scene the viewershould adopt himself, irrespective of his or her actual gender, into that of a masculine role whenundertaking an evaluation of this work. Whilst such an assumption on the artist part concerning the

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