Edouard Manet

Before attempting to anaylse the significance of gender within Edouard Manet¹s work entitled ³A Bar at the Folies-Bergere², one must first identify , and note, the somewhat colourful 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 Auguste¹s 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 Auguste¹s 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 Manet¹s 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 Manet¹s 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 ³A Bar at the Folies-Bergere². It was during the late 1850¹s 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 confessedto 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 syphillic 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 Manet¹s 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 Manet¹s 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 ŒLooking at Art from the Inside Out¹ , 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 ŒChrist Rising from the Tomb¹ 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 Manet¹s wish. For, by 1882, after years of constant rejection by the critical elite, Manet¹s frustration toward the Academy was at its peak,