Look Right Through Me

bar at the folies-bergere

Édouard Manet is another one of my favorite painters. He was a pivotal artist in the 19th century who inspired many other French impressionists. This earned him the title, “The Father of Modernity.” The location of this painting is a cafe-concert called Folies-Bergère in Paris. The model was a friend of Manet’s named Suzon. She is a hauntingly beautiful and arresting figure and this painting has inspired many works of literature, theatre, and film. Many other artists have painted their version of this scene.

In this café, there would have been circus-like entertainment which explains the dangling calves and feet of an acrobat in the upper left-hand corner. The focal point is the barmaid and the scene seems very straightforward at first but if we look closer, we notice the woman’s reflection in the mirror is odd. It’s not the angle we would see if we were looking at her directly from the front. On the right, her reflection is engaging in a conversation with a top-hatted man. Many people have speculated why this is and what it could mean. Only Manet could tell us, but he died shortly after this painting was complete.

A large marble countertop separates her from us, but her eyes also create a disconnect. Obviously, her thoughts are elsewhere. Her expression is melancholy, distant, reserved. Does she long to make a connection with another person, like her reflection is doing behind her? Has her station in life left her feeling subhuman? Does she feel see-through?

Have you ever felt see-through? I know I have, and I believe one reason this painting is effective is that it captures a longing we all know. No one wants to be see-through. We want to be a patron in the bar from the ‘80’s sitcom “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. One of the most degrading experiences is to be ignored and nameless.

Being Human connection: As a child of God, you are never seen through, ignored, or nameless. Perhaps you feel separated from God like the marble countertop separates the barmaid from us, but we know from Romans 8: Nothing—no thing—will ever separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus. That is indeed good news!

Featured art: Édouard Manet, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère,” 1882. The Courtauld Gallery, London