14 February 2013
In a lecture on Manet presented in Tunis in 1971, Foucault gives an absorbing account of the painting Un bar aux Folies-Bergère . The famous picture represents a woman with a huge mirror behind her, reflecting her back and the occupants of the bar. Foucault explains how a traditional composition is transformed by Manet into a puzzling series of spatial incompatibilities or distortions. He describes the painting as a ‘place at once empty and occupied’. Most strikingly for Foucault, the place of the viewer is undermined as ‘Manet plays with the picture’s property of being not in the least a normative space whereby the representation fixes us ……. to a unique point from which to look’. Overall in the lecture on Manet, he argues that the painter produced disturbing ‘object-paintings’ that anticipated not only impressionism but also more significantly non-representative art, focusing entirely on the play of ‘material properties’.
There is a wonderful exhibition of Manet’s paintings at the Royal Academy in London, open until mid April – book early if you are near!
Foucault, M. (2009)  Manet and the Object of Painting, translated M. Barr, London: Tate Publishing.