This work is included in the archives of the Wildenstein Institute, Paris.
The present work belongs to a series of vivacious drawings Manet executed around 1880 which depict the seated audience at what appears to be a performance at a café-concert (Wildenstein, vol. II, nos. 519-528), the popular variety shows staged in larger venues in central Paris. The artist has positioned himself close to his subject, separated only by one or two vacant seats, deploying his skill as a caricaturist as he summons to life the four spectators, three female and one male, all apparently enraptured with the events on the stage. “The crowd is his element,” wrote Baudelaire in The Painter of Modern Life, imagining his ideal in the role, “as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite” (trans. J. Mayne, New York, 1964, p. 9).
In common with his fellow Impressionists Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Manet maintained an enduring fascination with the dramatic arts and, in particular, the audience drawn to spectacles. However, unlike his colleagues who often favored the more rarified world of the patrons of the opera house and ballet performance, Manet focused much of his attention on the crowd attending the more earthy entertainment offered by the café-concert.