THE WORKS                                                                                                                                                                      

The two pieces of work that I have chosen to evaluate is the bar at the follies Bergere by Edouard Manet. The painting is currently at the Courtauld Institute gallery in London. The artwork is of a woman, a barmaid standing at a bar looking outwards behind her is a large mirror with reflections of the crowd enjoying the nightlife. The foreground is a marble counter with a bowl of oranges and bottles with some flowers. Behind the bar counter the blonde barmaid is grasping the bar she is wearing a dark jacket with a pink corsage. She stares out to the crowd we see behind her in the mirror [1].  The second artwork to be evaluated is The Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, presumably in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges s some scholars believed she had died the year before the painting was made either he had another wife that was not documented or the most supported notion that this is a sort of memorial piece made after the death of his wife. Not a strait forward betrothal piece or portrait it is considered among art critics as one of the most complex paintings in Western art history [2]. Signed and dated by Van Eyck in 1434, the panel painting to have been executed in oils rather than in tempera. The painting was bought by the National Gallery in London in 1842.  The painting is showing the married figures dressed in wealthy attire showing off their wealth and status hand in hand Arnolfini gazing into the distance while his wife stands head bowed towards her husband as if she as his wealth one of his trophies adorning him like the expensive cloth that he wears.

THE THEORIES                                                                                                                                                                

The aesthetic theories which will be evaluated are expressivism the theory that embraces the idea of emotions, the capacity that illicit feeling from the artist. The second is formalism this theory deals with the formal qualities of the work. The colour, shape, balance etc. it is concerned with the formal content not what the work represents [3].  I shall be using the bar at the follies berege and the Portrait of Arnolfini and his wife as a vehicle to evaluate these key theories.

REASONS FOR CHOICE OF THESE WORKS AND THEORIES                                                                            

I have chosen the works because they embody a whole social setting of a time. In the Folis Berger for instance in Paris where the bohemian lifestyle was prevalent for many. The emotions of the woman in the painting are apparent her loneliness and isolation. The painting is very busy with lots of activity. Yet there is a sombre feel to the piece this contrasts with the hustle and bustle of the revellers enjoying the Parisian nightlife. There are many emotions that one can gain from viewing this painting yet the formal qualities are distinct. Manet’s brush strokes and use of colour add to the atmosphere of the painting.

Van Eyck’s portrait similarly conveys of wealth and glamour or the time when portraits where considered to be the one thing among the wealthy to show off their status in the worlds. The connotations of this piece are many and open to interpretation. The subtleties in this painting the different facial gestures the candle being lit in the daytime the depictions of the passion of Christ these all add to the emotional qualities of the piece. The illusion in this painting was innovative for its time, the detail but particularly for the use of light to evoke space in an interior it deceives and plays with the light. The painting is often recognised for its deceptive non-Euclidean geometry in which they lived. With the realistic photographic quality. There is a regal feel to this painting with a hint of sadness expressed in the eyes of the Arnofini.

THE BAR AT THE FOLIES BEREGE  – OUTLINED                                                                                                     

Gazing outward the barmaid stands alone in the crowded bar. She has a detached expression on her face somewhat melancholy distracted from her job serving the masses enjoying the bohemian lifestyle. She has a locket around her neck perhaps the remnants of another life or love away from this job.  She seen alienated from her surroundings we are seeing what she is seeing in the mirror, the trapeze artist dangles on the top left side of the painting detached from the action in solitude. The bottles and the class bowls seem to be her only company apart from the top hated gentleman who is approaching her on the right hand side of the painting. The only solid realities are the marble top bar and the bottles. She has both hands firmly placed on the bar as if she needs to touch something solid to keep her firmly placed should she get carried away with the flow of revellers indulging themselves in the nightlife [4]. The dislocation of her world as if she floats helplessly holding on to her bar. Seeing what she sees we are the participant. The lines of the bar are detailed in firmer line depiction, being somewhat realistic. We see her through her common vernacular.

Some figures been angled differently, perhaps if the lines crossed in different patterns, a different analysis of their characters could be drawn. The glass reflects angles different than from the front. Some view the faults in the reflection to be fundamental to the painting as they show a double reality and meaning to the work [5].

EDOUARD MANET                                                                                                                                                          

Edouard Manet born in Paris January 23rd in 1832. Often identified with the ”impressionists” and  had a productive career scandalising Parisian life works included nudes painted in bold poses with outward gazes  His career could be a statement of the luxuries and frivolous extravagances he experienced for himself [6].

He painted A bar at the Folies – bergere in 1881 – 1882 this was his last ambitious painting he was gravely ill and would die one year later. This was showed at the Salon the same year.

THE ARNOLFINI  PORTRAIT –  OUTLINED                                                                                                                             

Arnolfini stands opposite his wife who appears to be pregnant, they are very richly dressed, despite the season their outer garments, his tabard and her dress, are trimmed and fully lined with fur. The furs may be the especially expensive. He wears a hat of plaited straw dyed black, as often worn in the summer at the time. His tabard was once rather purple than it appears now, as the pigments have faded; it may be intended to be silk velvet another very expensive element. Underneath he wears a doublet of patterned material. Her dress has elaborate cloth folded and sewn together, then cut and frayed decoratively on the sleeves, and a long train. Her blue underdress is also trimmed with white fur. [7]

Both outfits would have been enormously expensive, and appreciated as such by a contemporary viewer.

The interior of the room has other signs of wealth, the brass chandeliers is large and elaborate by contemporary standards, and would have been very expensive. The convex mirror at the back, in a wooden frame with scenes of The Passion painted behind glass, is shown larger than such mirrors could actually be made at this date another discreet departure from realism by Van Eyck. There is also no sign of a fireplace including in the mirror or anywhere obvious to put one. Even the oranges placed to the left are a sign of wealth and may have been one of the items dealt in by Arnolfini. [8] Another sign of wealth is the small Oriental carpet on the floor by the bed, many owners of such expensive. The view in the mirror shows two figures just inside the door that the couple are facing. The second figure, wearing red, is presumably the artist. Scholars have made this assumption based on the appearance of figures wearing red headdresses in some other van Eyck works e.g., the Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?). The dog is an early form of the breed now known as the Brussels griffon.

The painting is also signed, inscribed and dated on the wall above the mirror: “Johannes de Eyck fruit hic. 1434” (“Jan van Eyck was here. 1434”). The inscription looks as if it were painted in large letters on the wall. [9]

JAN VAN EYCK                                                                                                                                                                 

Jan van Eyck (or Johannes de Eyck).  A Flemish painter active in Bruges and considered one of the best Northern European painters of the 15th century. [10]

Van Eyck was among the earliest Early Netherlandish painters to use it for very detailed panel paintings, and that they achieved new and remarkable effects through the use of glazes, wet-on-wet and other techniques. Because of his early mastery of the technique, he was traditionally known as the “father of oil painting. He painted this panel painting in 1434. [11]


It is said in art the emotion is an important part for the experience of viewing a piece of art for us to feel the emotions of the artist and emotional impact on the audience. [12]

Both these paintings have a sombre and haunting presence to them although dating centuries apart they both have sadness to them. We feel the haunting gazes of both the characters in the two paintings the girl from the follies Berge has an emptiness her lonely expression looking outward to the audience her stare detached It is a matter of personal reaction as to what emotions the waitress is expressing. It could be that of a sad and resigned exhaustion, the extreme physical fatigue of a working woman in a modern city. Her expression could be interpreted as one of alienation and degradation given her place of work; she is quite possibly a prostitute herself too. Her half-vacant stare could also be that of observer of the cavorting crowd of patrons we can glimpse in the mirror.

Are we to think this is a political piece of sorts that Manet was making a social commentary of the time the people were partying in a hedonist existence thus filtering down to add to the poverty and ills of society at that time.

As a participant of this piece of art our responses may differ we may wonder what sort of place is the follies Bergere. What kind of people frequent there? And what was Manet’s intention behind this artwork?  Like the Van Eyck portrait with the staring husband with his wife by his side has a stoic quality to it the realistic qualities not only reflect in the proportions but in his uses of glazes add to the realism of the piece. The emotions of the woman in the painting are that of a dutiful wife head bowed to her husband  an almost angelic appearance yet he appears to be standing holding her hand as if she was one of his possessions this not being an uncommon role for the man to adhere to at that point in history. However if we believe this is a memorial piece then we see his gaze perhaps differently we see a man honouring his wife being the strong husband mourning his wife emotionally in turmoil. The emotions that the painter may have wished to convey could of course open to interpretations. His enigmatic gestures the melancholic stare the difference between the two her angelic face almost doll like his face real convincing as a man in grief. [13]

If we look at a few of the elements in this painting the mirror for instance depicts the final moments of Christ in the reflections  all of the scenes of Christ living are on his side and all the depictions of Christ’s death on the side of his wife. The lit candle positioned over his side and the unlit candle over her side, despite the visual evidence of daylight in the painting why have a lit candle at all? If we take this at face value and this is nothing more than a snapshot of sorts pained to represent a moment in a married couples life then we could be missing the point of the juxtaposition of the candles being that he is alive and she is dead and he is honouring her life as a significant part of his life. That has now gone. When we look at the painting with this position we feel his pain we can as an audience member feel the mourning that van Eyck perhaps was trying to convey. [14]

Likewise when we look at the bar in the folies berge we notice with in all the busy nightlife we see in the mirror a spectical of life trapeze artists and fun and laughter. The woman’s posture is somewhat ambivalent she looks less interested but in the mirror she seems more engaged with the gentleman in the right hand corner a level of intimacy yet she looks at us with a vacancy in her eyes.

the reflection the real life activity or her face as Manet sees in her? We seem to feel her pain is this Manet’s intention? Are we to feel what he feels does he see her face in a different light?  Are we or is she in fact this sad vulnerable woman we see and are engaged with. Whose perspective are we holding is our sympathy with her or with the locket is this to remind us of another life she once had? The mirror seems to be a metaphor for life or does it? Manet plays with the notion that mirrors merely reflect real life yet he has clearly manipulated the figures in the mirror there is a deconstruction and manipulation playing with perspective. The mirror is not just a truth it can be false based on our point of view. The perusals of truth in the social dynamics of the time in Paris. We can feel fleeting intense feelings of jealousy, pain, solitude, and joy, a festival of fun just as at Manet’s understanding of the time fast fleeting past just as the light is fleeting just as the trapeze artist is fleeting and Paris at the time was fleeting. Manet captures these beautify. An emotional intensity with openness to meaning.


Formalism describes the critical position that the most important aspect of a work of art is its form, that is, the way it is made and its purely visual aspects, rather than its narrative content or its relationship to the visible world. In painting therefore focusing exclusively on the qualities of colour, brushwork, form, line and composition. How the artist applied the techniques he had learned throughout his life. [16]

Jan van Eyck executed this piece in oils on wood panel. His technique involved detailed under drawing of specific segments, with pigments and glazes arrayed in layers to create a highly finished, visually realistic effect. Scientific analysis of the panel, and constituent pigment and ground layers demonstrated chemical factors consistent with other pieces from the period.

There is evidence to suggest Jan van Eyck could have employed optical devices, such as mirror and basic lenses, frequently depicted in his works, as an aid to composition. This is supported by the modelling of the chandelier achieved with a focused beam from a prominent light source, is possibly suggested in the image shown in the convex mirror central to the piece.

The colours of this piece are strong and vivid with special attention to detail the line and the form of the artwork give such a sense of realism and the use of light in this painting adds to the space of the piece the perspective this being the effect of illusionism van Eyck is considered one of the best at employing this technique. [17] The brush strokes are delicate the dog hair and the tiny scenes from the passion of Christ seem to be singularly done as if he used a very fine brush. The tiny cuts in the green robe the crispness of the lace around her head. Van Eyck was using oil paints in a way that hadn’t been done at this level before layering up the paints, layer after layer of these glazed which allows him to give the luminosity and deep rich colours which you could not achieve using tempera. The light streaming through the window to cast the light on the faces, the hands and the chandelier. Certainly a master of the northern renaissance period.

Manet’s use of brush strokes adds to the fluidity to the piece. This painted in a style of dash and brilliance, with textures such as the velvet of the barmaid’s jacket, the waxy skin of the oranges, and the crinkled gold foil on the champagne bottles rendered beautifully. The reflections in the various glass surfaces are especially vivid and convincing.  Most of Manet’s earlier works make use of the traditional techniques of the past. He was unique in his use of unorthodox composition and colour, employing broad planes, and solid construction he made considerable use of black pigment. “Colour is a matter of taste and of sensitivity”. – Edouard Manet.

Manet also painted in patches of color, cutting out in-between values (shades of color) to make sharper contrasts. So instead of painting a range of progressively lighter or darker shades of orange to indicate how close an orange dress is to a light source, he would simply slap on a patch of bright orange. This technique is called Tachism. (Tache means “spot” or “blot” in French.) The Impressionists modified this technique by breaking up Manet’s color patches into much tinier patches, flecks, and dabs of color.  “There is only one true thing: instantly paint
what you see. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again. All the rest is humbug.” —Edouard Manet.


To conclude my evaluation on these artworks I would say the key theories I have chosen do in all honesty have proved a difficult challenge. The expressivism was the easier of the two theories to analyse. As is the nature of feelings and emotions where there is no definite answer merely our own conclusions and what we gain from the indivdual pieces. Whereas looking at the formalism is somewhat more difficult to gauge. Looking at books and internet articles I would have thought the latter of the two theories would have been and easier challenge however it seems there is less formalist evaluations than I thought as I believed there would be more individual examples of how these are works were created as they have been analysed and evaluated through history but I noticed that a lot of these were statements on the style rather that the exact procedures for instance Manet’s part in impressionism or Van Eyck’s revolutionary advances  on northern renaissance.

Van Eyck’s work was the easier of the two to evaluate in this regard with lots more information on how he achieved his final piece rather than another art critics take on how he did it. I would suggest this is because it is known as the father of oil painting. Pioneering the techniques that in later years Manet would employ himself.  As I mentioned earlier I found it much easier to evaluate the theory of expressivism equally in both works with a plethora of information about what emotions we can gain from each of these works moreover the symbolism within both of these artworks was immense and I found myself getting more and more intrigued subtle meanings of each. With this regard it would have suited more to evaluate the symbolic qualities of these paintings. I wanted to find a contrast between feelings and emotions and the techniques that are used when creating a piece of art how the paint is used and types of brushes used to achieve the final outcome.  Weighing up the” how’s” of something with the”emotions” we feel as a viewing participant.

I found it interesting the social commentary of each of these artist were trying to convey Manet’s Folies de Berge commenting on the fleeting bohemian lifestyles of the Parisians enjoying nightlife throwing caution to the wind or van Eyck’s portrait commenting on the social status of a wealthy man with his wife by his side showing his peers what he has and owns.

The use of light to make these pieces have a light and luminous feel. Manet’s large brushstroke also creating an illusion of light in this dark Parisian club.  Van Eyck’s sunshine pouring through the window. Both of these artworks have a light feel yet some of the subject matter may not be so. Giving a still quiets ambiance to the works.

In conclusion although the theory of formalism was explored I feel that the theory representationalism would have been more productive to explore to see the symbolic qualities what these painting stood for and where about. The theory of expressivism was explored fully and I found myself having to edit a lot out I found it interesting how me the spectator got to feel what the artist may have wanted me to feel. What they were trying to convey and make us feel to sympathise with the characters in the paintings and understanding that they had a life with thoughts feelings and I found these characters taking on a whole new meaning as I was empathizing with them.





[4]          Art Education : Journal of the National Art Education Association, (26/11/11)/(01/12/11)


[7] (26/11/11)



[10] (26/11/11)/(01/12/11)

[ 11] (27/11/11)/(01/12/11)

[12]        pholosphy in art : An introduction to aesthetics Gordon Graham p41. (27/11/11)/(01/12/11)


[14]  (27/11/11)

[15] (27/11/11)

[16] (28/11/11)/(01/12/11)

[17] (27/11/11)/(01/12/11)

[18] (26/11/11)


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