Much of the art of Manet reflects the developments going on in Paris in the 1860s and 1870s. The rebuilding of Paris was being supervised by Baron Haussman, as much of the old medieval centre of the city was being destroyed so that the new city could be rebuilt. In his book "The painting of modern life" TJ Clark argues that modern art of the 20th century evolves from the art produced by Manet during this period of great change in Paris.
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Manet's scenes of Parisian cafes, bars and streets reflected the new Paris. Manet's work influenced the impressionist painters, who were a strong influences on the painting of the 20th century, so in this sense Manet's painting is the first modern art that emerged from the creation of the new Paris which Manet depicted in many of his paintings.
While Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe and Olympia were the most famous and most controversial works Manet produced, I do not feel they represent the view of the French writer Baudelaire who came up with the phrase 'modern life'. Instead I will be focusing more on Manet's last great masterpiece The Bar at the Folies-Bergere, a much better display of Paris life, as well as some of his other lesser known, smaller works. I will be discussing the relation of Manet's art, especially this painting of the Folies Bergere night club, to modern life in Paris at this time.
During the 1860s under the reign of Napoleon III in France, the city of Paris became one of the most modern in the world due to the extensive redesigning by Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann. Paris was full of bars, operas, cafes, cabarets and a centre of dance and western culture. Many of the slums and poor inner city areas were redesigned with wide open streets and modern buildings.
While this meant many of the lower class people were moved out of the city, many richer and middle class people moved to the inner city in their place. It was one of the largest efforts to rebuild the centre of a city since ancient times. While there was the glamour of the many entertainments in the city, there was also a darker side of poverty, crime and prostitution.
"The city - with its pristine exterior, its soiled underside, its hollow entertainments - provided the makings of an enormous duality: a two-sided mirror...a spectacle and secret life." (Bromber 1996: 62) One of the key parts to this design by Haussmann were the wide tree lined avenues, which replaced the smaller streets that had previously existed in the city.