The Commodity

The Commodity

Faith, age 17

Spoken word

This artwork is very provocative yet informative. Like a Lense into the past. From the first moment your eyes lock with those of the Barmaid, you hear her plea. ‘Get me out of here’. Which is entirely understandable as she appears to be trapped behind the counter.

Slightly bent over in her reflection. Dressed in a tight alluring corset. Like a bottle of champagne. Her exposed chest, revealing her fair skin. Like the expensive looking refreshments, she is a commodity waiting to be purchased. A delicacy to the male gaze. And the flowers covering her bosom are tease to the male gaze. Manet is very methodical in where he places them.

Just by looking at her appearance we can identify the way French society was functioning at the time. Needless to say, it’s not a surprise to find that in the 19th century, a time where male dominance and sexual inequality was universal, in France women were defined primarily by their sex. So here before us lies a woman entrapped within a patriarchal and demanding realm.

In the reflection the aristocratic, affluent looking man gazes at her intensively. Could he be the lucky buyer? Could he grab his hands on the most expensive commodity? She isn’t fazed. She has probably been through this before. Her facial expressions communicate her irritation. It’s as if she is repressing her annoyance of him.

Manet uses oil paint with such precision to depict emotion within the subject of the painting. The emptiness in her eyes and the enigmatic expression towards her customer reveals her boredom. He has failed in his mission to entice her. But she nevertheless raises her eyebrows to ‘act’ as if she is interested. This may be symbolic of the fact that women in prostitution, in fact women in general were forced to conceal their feelings.

It is also noticeable that the viewer is in the exact position where the man would be. Why are we in that position? Manet is trying to relay a direct and distinct message. The contemporary society would have been the first viewers of ‘A bar at the folies-bergère painting’ The fact that they are viewing the painting from the man’s viewpoint is symbolic of that fact that society was simply a ‘man’s world’.

In the background of the painting Manet using very thick brushstrokes, paints an immeasurable amount of upper class members. The bourgeoisie indulge in drinking, you can almost hear the collection of their meaningless conversations. Some are amused by the small acrobatic stunt in the top left hand corner of the painting. The background of the painting acts as a symbol of the exploitative economy. Meanwhile she is in the foreground waiting to be purchased, she is on pause as the life around her is on play.