A Closer Look - The Courtauld Institute of Art

A Closer Look

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ESOL | Speaking About Art

A Closer Look


ESOL | Speaking About Art

A Closer Look

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882


Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883), A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882, oil on canvas, 96 x 130cm, The Courtauld Gallery, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld


A Closer Look:

The activities in this section encourage learners to look closely at an artwork in a variety of ways and discuss, describe, and question.

You will find:

Painting Description Audio File

All activities in this section can be used as a whole class or small group speaking and listening activities. The worksheets can also be used by individual learners to support reading and writing.


Key Information:

This painting, by French artist Édouard Manet, was his last major work. It represents the bustling interior of one of the most prominent music halls and cabarets of Paris, the Folies-Bergère. The venue opened in 1869 and was frequented by fashionable figures in Parisian society. Its atmosphere was described as “unmixed joy”. 

Manet was a frequent visitor at the Folies-Bergère and made sketches whilst he was there. This painting was completed in his studio where he set up a bar and employed one of the barmaids, Suzon, to pose behind it.  

On the bar we can see a collection of items that indicate this venue was for wealthy patrons, including champagne, imported Bass beer (see the distinctive red triangle logo), a vase with fresh flowers and a bowl of fresh clementine oranges. If you look closely at the wine bottle on the left you will see Manet’s signature.  

While the loosely painted crowds in the background convey the bustle of the Folies- Bergère, the barmaid appears detached from the rest of the scene. She stares directly out at the viewer, but her reflection in the mirror behind her is displaced to the right and shows her facing a gentleman customer. Who is this gentleman? If Suzon’s reflection shows that she is facing this man, then who are we? Could we be looking at this scene through his eyes? 

This was an incredibly modern painting at the time, in fact it was the first painting to ever show electric lighting! 

Suggested Extension Activities: 


Memory Game: 

This activity can be used to explore any artwork and encourages descriptive language in a fun and informal way: 

  • Look closely at the painting for 1 minute
  • After 1 minute remove or turn over the image and ask learners to describe what they remember (write key words on the board – or designate one learner to write them down)
  • Look at the image again and discuss which objects you have all forgotten!


Questions for Suzon: 

This activity encourages learners to formulate questions. As an extension activity, they can discuss how Suzon might answer. 

It can also be used as a role-play activity, where one person pretends to be Suzon, or a customer – or someone swinging through the air on a trapeze! 

  • Are you happy?
  • Are you tired?
  • Do you like your job?
  • Do you get a lot of money?
  • Are the people friendly?
  • Is that man annoying you?
  • Is your dress too tight? Can you breathe?!
  • Is it very hot?
  • is it noisy?
  • Do you like the music?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • What is your favourite hobby?


Explore sensory elements within the painting: 

Encourage learners to imagine that they have stepped into the painting and can see, hear, smell and touch everything in the bar. Learners can use the downloadable sensory word bank to support this activity.  

Consider introducing sensory elements to help learners to describe the painting. For example, items with strong fragrances, distinctive textures or that can be manipulated to produce sound. This could include fresh fruit, flowers, perfume, herbs and spices, textiles, sandpaper, wood, foil and glass.  


Music and the Folies-Bergère: 

As the Folies-Bergère was famous for entertainment and music, you might like to explore the artwork through music and recreate an atmosphere of ‘unmixed joy’ in your classroom!

You could play two different pieces of music and ask learners to choose which best represents the artwork and encourage learners to describe and compare the two pieces.  

If the player above does not work, click here to access the Spotify playlist.

Useful Links: 

Further information about the painting in The Courtauld Collection 

See the painting in our Virtual Gallery Tour

Courtauld Art Historian Fran Herrick discusses the painting (video)

See an earlier version of the painting

What was happening in Paris in 1882?

Fashion in the 1880s

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