|(Courtauld Institute of Art, London)|
Sure, we’re the same species as the Homo sapiens depicted in pre-20th century paintings, but who hasn’t felt a disconnect when gazing in the art world’s rear view mirror—a chasm separating earlier cultures from our own? In that, transformations in material culture deserve much of the credit. Which is one good reason why Edouard Manet’s A Bar at Folies-Bergere, painted a year before his death in 1883, is exceptional.
Look at the counter of the bar in the above painting. You’ll see two bottles of Bass Pale Ale, with their familiar red triangle logo. It’s a brand that many of us know first hand. Seeing it in the painting connects us in a wink with late 19th century patrons (many of them perhaps British tourists) at Folies-Bergerie. All at once, via a commercial logo, we’ve discovered a bridge over a cultural chasm.
Ironically, many Americans have told me that they’ve seen the painting but haven’t noticed the beer. Some of them are not beer drinkers. Might others who are, however, be subject to the invisible gorilla trap, i.e., failing to see something in front of their noses, because it defies their expectations?
A Bar at Folies-Bergere must also be our longest-running example (albeit inadvertent) of product placement. Marketers at Bass must exult: 127 years of exposure to the brand in galleries and art books—that’s a lot of eyeballs!