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I think that one of the most significant elements conveyed by the portrait is the embrace of ambiguity. Composed near the end of his life, Manet gives the viewer little upon which absolute judgments can be made. This might be deliberate. The work is seen as "a modern paraphrasing" of Velasquez's "Las Meninas," an art sample where litte, if anything, is clear. Manet is able to accomplish this embrace of ambiguity in strikingly simple, yet complex terms. The barmaid at the center of the picture is where he starts. Her countenance indicates some focus, but more generalized thought. The most immediate association is that we, the viewer, are watching a reflection. Yet, this is not entirely valid because of what is going on in the picture. The man in the background talking to the woman to her back left helps to increase what exactly is happening. It cannot be a reflection because we do not see anything related to the man, who would be nearest to us, with his back to us. This leads us to think that perhaps the conversation is happening in her mind, and if, so what transpired to result in a despondent look that she holds. We also know it's not a reflection because the bottles in the front of the bar are not accurately shown behind her. Through form and technique, Manet is able to construct thematic ambiguity and open a discussion so that we, the viewer, become part of the painting, part of the action, part of the unknown.
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