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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Painting of the Month (51) December 2014: Manet

In 2005 a BBC Radio station ran a competition where listeners voted for their favourite painting in the UK. For the next few items in this series I will be featuring a random selection of those pictures. By 'random' I mean paintings that I personally like!
A Bar at the Folies-Bergieres. Ă‰douard Manet 1892
There are many interesting features of this painting that, despite it's late nineteenth century setting, make it quite modern. Firstly it is generally believed to be the first painting to depict a registered trade mark. Can you spot it? I will reveal it at the end of this article. Secondly there is the impossible composition; the girl behind the bar is looking straight out at the viewer of the painting yet, in the mirror behind her, her reflection can be seen talking to a customer at completely the wrong angle. For years I thought it was the back of another barmaid. The gent with the top-hat should be in front of us blocking our view. The girls name was Suzon, who in reality did work there, but Manet had painted her in his studio and added the background from quick impressionistic sketches he had made. She looks sad and detached from her work. She wears a locket around her neck which hints at a love far away from this world with the sinister stranger at the bar with his Jack-the-Ripper-like menace. This picture was painted immediately after The Ripper was 'active' (1888-91). 
Eduard Manet worshipped the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez and his painting 'Las Meninas' is the surprising inspiration for this picture. Looking at the picture, below, can you see the connection and the elements that interested Manet? Let me explain:
'Las Meninas'. Velazquez 1656.
There is a strange mix of positions and points of view. The artist, the Infanta and a dwarf courtier are looking out of the picture at the viewer while others, within the painting, are interacting between themselves. Also reflected in a mirror, near the centre are what is probably the King & Queen who would be looking into the painting. Possibly they are the subject which the artist is painting. Shouldn't we be looking at their backs?

At each end of the bar is a beer bottle with a red triangle design on the label - the trade mark of Bass beer brewed in Burton-on-Trent, England. (Founded in 1777 and still going though not a patch on the great beer that it once was since being taken over by Anheuser-Busch!)
Listening to Negro Y Azul (The ballad of Heisenberg) by Los Cuates de Sinaloa from Breaking Bad. Fab! Listen here


All Consuming said...

Good choices, I prefer the Manet of the two, yet find the Velazquez quite fascinating in its composition. I knew that was her back in the mirror mind you, and always thought it odd, but it is the real sadness in her eyes that grips one as you say. Her heart is being trampled into the ground by someone and Manet has shown this so superbly.

loverofwords said...

So much to learn! I think that what is wonderful about being a master of your art is that then one can be very creative as to how and where to place your subject, perhaps make a political statement or comment with a puzzle in your painting, because your technique is perfect. In this painting Manet was like a stage manager, placing his "actors" here and there. I like both paintings for different reasons. Thank you for a very interesting post.

bazza said...

AC: Yes Manet has produced a wonderfully sympathetic picture. I didn't write anything about the technical brilliance but the way he has depicted the marble surfaces and the oranges are top-class. This picture is in the Courtauld Institute in The Strand, London, and I always take the opportunity to pop in and see it if I'm in the area.

bazza said...

Natasha: Oh yes, it's not just the painterly stuff but skill on many other levels too! Composition is such an important element in this type of picture.

Dixie@dcrelief said...

College days and music appreciation classes or I'd probably be totally ignorant! I remember marveling over the chandeliers when I saw the green shoes of the acrobat... Oh my. The minute details kept me busy. I did know the label was the trademark you asked about. There are three bottles but only two have the labels visible. Bazza I could see those crystals hanging in each chandelier, it was captivating, still is today. All the top hats. Yes, I wondered about perspective but kept thinking the man on the far right would not have been seen from the vantage point of the "viewer". I like this and could go on for decades. So I'll stop now.

Velazquez - layers and layers - again, a special extravaganza of layers. Visual candy! I feel like I'm painting it and the artist in the background would be painting their backsides.

Maybe one day I'll pick a spot of one or both paintings and do a study - just for fun and hope to not stress my head! I often do that with charcoal and pencil drawings. It gives me a perspective that can't be absorbed through the visual only. Great choices!!!

bazza said...

Wow Dixie! What an enthusiastic comment. It's good to know that others share my passion for these works. Even if people don't like them it's always rewarding to evoke a thoughtful response!

John said...

Hi Bazza!
I noticed the 'Bass' label straight away, what does that say about me!?
I always get muddled up between Manet and Monet, but then again, I am not a very clever chap!

bazza said...

John, you are far too modest about yourself. Snap out of it!
At least you know that Manet and Monet were two different people!
I suppose the Bass label is pretty distinctive - if you already know it....

Dixie@dcrelief said...

Bazza - you're a kind and brilliant man. Thanks for Dire Straits!

Also my addiction to crystal "lead" me once more to have another quiet study. One simply does not "look" at quality, and turn away. (The painting, Bazza.)

bazza said...

May I quote you on the "kind and brilliant" bit?!

Dixie@dcrelief said...

By all means!

And here's a song you might not have heard:

bazza said...

Roy Wood from Birmingham, England formed three group: The Move, The Electric Light Orchestra and lastly, Wizard. He created many classic pop songs that still sound good today (and I believe he still performs).
Thanks for reminding me of this one - they will probably start playing it on the radio shortly. It gets an airing every year at Christmas and still sounds OK to me!

Dixie@dcrelief said...

By all means, have it put on a T-shirt!

About the group and song - that is funny! Thanks for the trivia.

klahanie said...

Bazza, old chap,

I'm in the Manet camp when it comes to the paintings. I'm also noticing the advertising.

Are you still doing the tours of the National Brewery Centre in Burton upon Trent?

Thank you for this, my esteemed friend.


bazza said...

Well Gary, a tour of Burton-on-Trent sounds like a good idea!

Dixie@dcrelief said...

It's late here. We've officially missed twice getting snow. I've come to remedy my Manet depression."Crystal Chandelier Krishna... repeat three times slowly.

bazza said...

Hi Dixie. You can always come here to see some paintings and lift your spirits!

Dixie@dcrelief said...

Happy Hanukah, my friend. Glad to know you got returned safely from the wedding trip. :))

bazza said...

Thanks Dixie! We had a great time at the wedding in Bristol. I will shortly be posting my Christmas Quiz!