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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

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Émile Zola on the pantomime performers, the Hanlon-Lees

"Dear Monsieur Zola,
   I don't knolw where to find you to shake your hand and tell you how proud and happy I am to be championed by a man of your talent..."

Letter from Manet to Zola, 7 May 1866

Émile Zola (1840-1902), the inexhaustible French writer, evangelist of Naturalism, was a friend and supporter of Manet. He is probably best known for his novels 'Germinal' (1885) and 'Nana' (1880), as well as 'J'Accuse (1898), his diatribe against those accusing Dreyfus of treason, for which he was prosecuted for libel. He escaped to England, where he remianed a few months until an amnesty enabled him to return to France. He was accidentally asphyxiated in his bedroom after inhaling fumes from a blocked chimney. He was deeply impressed by English pantomime performers, the Hanlon-Lees.

"Their treatment of subject matter is so powerful, their discoveries so much those of unmerciful analysts, that they shatter the facile pleasantries of vaudeville. What they needed, to be really at home, was another Molière or Shakespeare. Only then could they give all that they felt.

"I insist on this because, despite their instant success, it does not seem to me that they have yet realized their greatest potential - they are so far superior to the canvas that has been painted for them.

"When they were on their own at the Folies-Bergère, they created scenes of greater depth, which made you feel inundated with the small cold shiver of truth. In a word, their pantomime had a troubling au dél^ ["something beyond"], the same au dél^ of Molière, which put fear into the laughter of the public. Nothing is more formidable, in my opinion, than the gaiety of the Hanlon-Lees, revelling amongst broken limbs and smashed chests, triumphing in the midst of vice and crime and in the face of outraged morality. In essence, it is the negation of everything, the human void."

Émile Zola, 'Pantomime', in Le Naturalisme au Theatre, 1874. trans. John Towsen

A Brief History of the Folies Bergère
Guy de Maupassant on the Foiles-Berg?re

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The Hanlon-Lees

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Portrait of Émile Zola 1868

Manet (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)

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