The Folies-Bergère was Paris’s first music hall. A magazine described its atmosphere of ‘unmixed joy’ where everyone spoke ‘the language of pleasure’. It was notorious for the access it gave to prostitutes. The barmaids, according to the poet Maupassant, were ‘vendors of drink and of love’.
This picture was Manet’s last major work, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882. Manet knew the Folies-Bergère well. He made preparatory sketches on site, but the final painting was executed in his studio. He set up a bar and employed one of the barmaids, Suzon, to pose behind it.
Manet’s picture is unsettling. An acrobat’s feet, clad in green boots, dangle in the air. The quickly sketched crowds convey the bustle of the Folies-Bergères. In contrast, the barmaid is detached and marooned behind her bar, with her reflection displaced to the right. She stares at the viewer, but the mirror shows her facing a customer.