A worthwhile visit

As part of a programme exploring cultural London, visiting the Courtauld Gallery made me appreciate what an amazing opportunity this 3 months experience is and will be in the development of my interests. To be honest, maybe for my lack of knowledge in the subject or for my lack of enthusiasm in approaching this world, I have never been a big fan of visual arts. I have always been facing difficulties in accepting the idea of not being able to empathise with what I see in front of me, of not being able to “travel” through the artwork as I want but to be “constrained” by the boundaries of the concreteness of a piece of visual art. So far, I have never really felt the freedom of imagining the scenario I was looking at in my own way. That is why, and I know it sounds superficial, I have always generally preferred a book to a painting or a sculpture.

This brief tour of the gallery has proven my thoughts wrong. To begin with, the idea of choosing two paintings over the numerous exhibited in the gallery was something I really appreciated: I immediately realised that the way I have always been used to visiting galleries, looking at hundreds of paintings in a couple of hours but never really focusing on them or on their meanings, was probably a contributing factor to my rejection towards this world. A masterpiece is not only a masterpiece for the style and technique of who has made it but also for the elaborateness of its content, which, to be truly appreciated, requires patience and the respect of reflecting on it, which is how we approached A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” by Édouard Manet

A bar at the folies- bergere by Manet

Without being given any external description or explanation of the painting, we were asked to freely write our thoughts and feelings for 10 minutes and then to share them between us. Besides the fact that all the interpretations we gave differed, I was surprised by how easily I managed to immerse myself in what I was seeing and to deeply connect with the barmaid. I felt the loudness and chaotic rumors of the crowd in her background but, at the same time, alienated and melancholically detached by what surrounds her, as if these two contrasting feelings were two sides of the same coin, perfectly portrayed by the acrobat’s detachment on one side and the reflection of the barmaid on the other, where she seems to be perfectly immersed in the surrounding scenario, presumably talking to a client.

Linking back to what I was previously saying, I finally managed to break that “barrier” that has always prevented me to truly appreciate pieces of visual art, empathising with the barmaid and giving free vent to my imagination.

Ironically enough, this feeling seems to be clashing with the painter’s intent, who once said “I paint what I see, and not what others like to see”1, making the whole experience even more incredible.

Here is the link to the gallery:


1Rurhber, K., Schneckenburger, M., Fricke, C., Walther, I.F. (2012). Art of the 20th Century. Los Angeles, USA: Taschen.

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