This is the first section of your IELTS Reading test. You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1–13, which are based on Reading Passage 1 below.

A bar at the folies (Un bar aux folies)

One of the most critically renowned paintings of the 19th-century modernist movement is the French painter Edouard Manet’s masterwork, A Bar at the Folies. Originally belonging to the composer Emmanuel Chabrier, it is now in the possession of The Courtauld Gallery in London, where it has also become a favourite with the crowds.

B  The painting is set late at night in a nineteenth-century Parisian nightclub. A barmaid stands alone behind her bar, fitted out in a black bodice that has a frilly white neckline, and with a spray of flowers sitting across her décolletage. She rests her hands on the bar and gazes out forlornly at a point just below the viewer, not quite making eye contact. Also on the bar are some bottles of liquor and a bowl of oranges, but much of the activity in the room takes place in the reflection of a mirror behind the barmaid. Through this mirror we see an auditorium, bustling with blurred figures and faces: men in top hats, a woman examining the scene below her through binoculars, another in long gloves, even the feet of a trapeze artist demonstrating acrobatic feats above his adoring crowd. In the foreground of the reflection a man with a thick moustache is talking with the barmaid. 

C  Although the Folies (-Bergère) was an actual establishment in late nineteenth-century Paris, and the subject of the painting was a real barmaid who worked there, Manet did not attempt to recapture every detail of the bar in his rendition. The painting was largely completed in a private studio belonging to the painter, where the barmaid posed with a number of bottles, and this was then integrated with quick sketches the artist made at the Folies itself. 

D  Even more confounding than Manet’s relaxed attention to detail, however, is the relationship in the painting between the activity in the mirrored reflection and that which we see in the unreflected foreground. In a similar vein to Diego Velazquez’ much earlier work Las Meninas, Manet uses the mirror to toy with our ideas about which details are true to life and which are not. In the foreground, for example, the barmaid is positioned upright, her face betraying an expression of lonely detachment, yet in the mirrored reflection she appears to be leaning forward and to the side, apparently engaging in conversation with her moustachioed customer. As a result of this, the customer’s stance is also altered. In the mirror, he should be blocked from view as a result of where the barmaid is standing, yet Manet has re-positioned him to the side. The overall impact on the viewer is one of a dreamlike disjuncture between reality and illusion. 

E  Why would Manet engage in such deceit? Perhaps for that very reason: to depict two different states of mind or emotion. Manet seems to be conveying his understanding of the modern workplace, a place  – from his perspective – of alienation, where workers felt torn from their ‘true’ selves and forced to assume an artificial working identity. What we see in the mirrored reflection is the barmaid’s working self, busy serving a customer. The front-on view, however, bears witness to how the barmaid truly feels at work: hopeless, adrift, and alone.

F  Ever since its debut at the Paris Salon of 1882, art historians have produced reams of books and journal articles disputing the positioning of the barmaid and patron in A Bar at the Folies. Some have even conducted staged representations of the painting in order to ascertain whether Manet’s seemingly distorted point of view might have been possible after all. Yet while academics are understandably drawn to the compositional enigma of the painting, the layperson is always likely to see the much simpler, more human story beneath. No doubt this is the way Manet would have wanted it. 

Questions 1–5

Reading Passage 1 has six paragraphs, A–F.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter, A–F, in boxes 1–5 on your answer sheet.

1. a description of how Manet created the painting

2. aspects of the painting that scholars are most interested in

3. the writer’s view of the idea that Manet wants to communicate

4. examples to show why the bar scene is unrealistic

5. a statement about the popularity of the painting 

Questions 6–10

Answer the questions below.

Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 6–10 on your answer sheet.

6. Who was the first owner of A Bar at the Folies?

7. What is the barmaid wearing?

8. Which room is seen at the back of the painting?

9. Who is performing for the audience?

10. Where did most of the work on the painting take place?

Questions 11–13

Complete each sentence with the correct ending, A–F, below.

Write the correct letter, A–F, in boxes 11–13 on your answer sheet.

11. Manet misrepresents the images in the mirror because he

12. Manet felt modern workers were alienated because they

13. Academics have re-constructed the painting in real life because they

 A. wanted to find out if the painting’s perspective was realistic

B. felt they had to work very hard at boring and difficult jobs

C. wanted to understand the lives of ordinary people at the time

D. felt like they had to become different people

E. wanted to manipulate our sense of reality

F. wanted to focus on the detail in the painting

Remember, you have 60 minutes to complete the Reading test! You should spend about 20 minutes on each of the three sections.

You have completed the first section of your Reading test. Now move on to Reading passage 2.

See also