From The Guardian:
Why does the waitress look sad? Who is the lady with a parasol? What are the women talking about? Writers reflect on the stories behind their favourite works in the Courtauld Gallery.
Few paintings are so full of ambiguity. Ambiguity, or mystery, or uncertainty, though there is no uncertainty about the title, and the painting seems to show us precisely that: a bar at the theatre, or music hall (there isn't an exact English equivalent), known as the Folies-Bergère. And the Folies-Bergère is a place of pleasure, where everything necessary for a good time is to be had. Laid out for us to inspect on the marble counter are bottles of champagne, of beer, of various liqueurs; there is a dish of oranges with the light gleaming on their waxy skin; and there is a barmaid waiting patiently to serve us with whatever we desire – including, perhaps, herself.
But look only a few inches behind her, and the mysteries begin. The greater part of the picture surface depicts a mirror, whose gold frame we can see behind the barmaid's wrist. Most of what we see is a reflection of . . . well, what?