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Manet, Corner of a Café-Concert

Edouard Manet, Corner of a Café-Concert, 1878-80, 97.1 x 77.5 cm (National Gallery, London) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user jamie
    They mention the "absurdities"... and it's so true. When I first saw this, the painting was actually not very pleasurable (for me) to look at. After hearing the insights, I can see what was bothering my eye. Some things just match up so perfectly that it makes it feel disunited. Like how her arm that is reaching around the man matches up exactly with his neckline and collar and they come to a criss-cross. Maybe, as they say, he was having fun with drawing attention to the visual and helping us to see things a little differently. Other thoughts on this?
    (12 votes)
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    • leafers seedling style avatar for user hlchang98
      This painting is definitely not the most organized picture in the world. It could very well be him painting us to look at the little things here and there. He invites us to notice everything that is different aspects of things and not just the big picture.
      (3 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Alex Hallmark
    Can someone discuss the near-vertical line down the back of the man's blue shirt? It seems to be a continuation of the server's apron.
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user vanessa.sledge
    the man man whit the pip look like he's going to past something to the woman look at his hand near his right leg. look at the women eyes corned to see if any ones wacthing.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user danielmcastro2010
    what is realism
    (0 votes)
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Video transcript

(jazzy music) Female: We're looking at Manet's Corner of a Cafe-Concert at the National Gallery in London. I'm just looking at all of those brush strokes on her apron, on the glass, on the counter where the man has his elbow. Male: Or the instruments of the musician. Female: Manet's really calling our attention to the brush strokes. Look at the weavey white lines that serve as her collar. Male: It's not just the sort of the chaos of the brushwork, the energy, the velocity of that brushwork, but it's also the wild composition and the space that's being depicted. It's such a complicated image. Generally you would think a single person is taking up 2/3 of the canvas. I'm looking at the pipe smoker with the blue smock. Then the large woman just in back of him, the waitress with the two beers. Generally that would sort of settle a painting down compositionally, but not at all. Here she's leaning over. He is looking towards the dancers just rather nonchalantly, his elbow really quite relaxed. She's in a very awkward position, which really suggests there's a real movement taking place. Then her eye goes back and it's completley confused for a moment. Female: Right. She is doing two things at once. It reminded me of our word of "multitasking." Male: (laughs) That's true. Female: So there's something so modern about this, of doing multiple things simultaneously, although I guess maybe there's nothing specifically modern about that idea. Male: Although catching it visually I think is incredibly modern. That idea of the momentary as opposed to the staged. Female: Of course this is a painting that's composed to look uncomposed; that this is actually carefully thought out. What I was just noticing, too, as we were talking about the sort of discontinuity of things, he looks in one way, she looks in the other, her body moves one way, his body moves the other, is the way that all those forms in the background kind of allied with the foreground, so I was looking specifically at those white brush strokes that are right by his left wrist that are actually part of her cuff of her dress. Male: As she reaches around to pick up more beer. Female: Because we don't see whole bodies. He's in a way violating the basic academic idea of leaving the body whole and readable here. Male: I think he's actually having fun with it. He's catching little sort of windows of forms. For instance, look at the little u-shape that the bowl of the man's pipe, the stem of the pipe and then his forefinger create, and caught in that bowl is the ear of the man beside him. Female: (laughing) Right. That's true. Male: (laughing) He seems to be delighting in the absurdity of those kinds of junctures, visual junctures. Female: Yeah, or the way that the gray smoke that rises up as a little plume from the pipe collides with the gray of the bowler hat behind. Male: That's right. Or the way in which the instruments frame that bowler hat in the most absurd way, and clearly intentionally. Female: I think that by doing these things, Manet is doing something really wonderful that I think is one of the most important things art can do, which is to make us more visually aware of the world that we live in and how unexpected things happen and how interesting they can be. Male: Had art ever done that before? When we think about carefully composed paintings of the old masters, that painting is not drawing your attention to the veracity of life. Female: The serendipity of life. Male: This is really anticipating our modern visual culture. Female: It makes for an image that really still very much speaks to us. This is still our world. Male: Yeah, walking into a bar. This would not be unexpected at all. This kind of bustle and chaos. Female: It's no surprise that these galleries are among the most popular at the National Gallery. This is our life still. (jazzy music)