Edgar Degas (1834-1917) Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, Oil on canvas, 117.2 x 77.5 cm. Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1925 (NG4121), National Gallery, London, Great Britain © National Gallery, London / Art, esource, NY.

The Story of Edgar Degas and Miss La La of the Cirque Fernando

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, Pastel on paper, 24 x 18-3/4", N04710, Presented by Samuel Courtauld 1933 Tate, London / Art Resource, NY.

Unidentified photographer Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando, circa 1880,Albumen silver print, 15-7/16 x 11-5/16", Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, Museum, Purchase 1999.0187.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, Black chalk with touches of pastel, 18-1⁄2 x 12 5/8", 36.7 The Trustees of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham.

Henry-Gabriel Ibels (1867-1936 ) At the Circus (Au Cirque), 1893, Color lithograph, 22-1/8 x 15-7/8", 22.82.1-5
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1922 Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Image Source: Art Resource, NY, 1975.1.731, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Image Source: Art Resource, NY.


Morgan Library & Museum
29 East 36th Street
New York
Degas, Miss La La,
and the Cirque Fernando

February 15-May 12, 2013

For several successive evenings in January 1879 Edgar Degas (1834-1917) attended performances by a famous aerialist known as Miss La La at Paris’s Cirque Fernando. Riveted by what he saw, Degas would immortalize her breathtaking act — she was hoisted to the circus’s 70-foot ceiling by a rope clenched between her teeth — in his painting, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando. The work, first shown at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1879, was immediately championed for its unusual subject matter and bold composition.

The story behind this remarkable work is told in depth for the first time when Morgan Library & Museum presents Degas, Miss La La, and the Cirque Fernando. The exhibition brings together Degas’s painting, on loan from National Gallery in London, and an array of related material, including prep drawings, pastels, an oil sketch, and print by the artist. Also on view are three works by other painters of the period depicting scenes at Cirque Fernando, as well as books, lithographs, photographs, prints, and circus programs providing a more complete picture of Miss La La and her troupe.

"Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando remains as arresting today as it was when the artist created it over a hundred years ago,” said William M. Griswold, director of The Morgan Library & Museum. “The subject is unique among Degas’s paintings. This exhibition tells the story of the genesis of the work and its captivating theme with a fascinating display of drawings and prints, as well as literary, historical, and photographic material of the period.”

Miss LaLa st the Cirque Fermando From his earliest studies, Degas appears to have intended to record Miss La La’s astonishing feat, rather than her physical likeness. The preparatory drawings and pastels in the exhibition reveal his steadfast avoidance of Miss La La’s facial features, and his choice to focus instead on her muscular limbs, shimmering costume, tuft of black hair, and timeless, frozen pose of suspension.

Only in his earliest depiction of the aerialist, dating to January 19, 1879, did the artist show the performer frontally rather than in profile, as she appears in the related painting and the other preliminary studies, all of which are in the exhibition. In each, Miss La La appears in virtually the same pose as in the National Gallery painting, suggesting that Degas arrived at this idea early in the genesis of the composition and never veered from it.

The painting itself was followed by a drawing done from memory of Miss La La and her dental apparatus. Although Degas executed two obscure monotypes of circus subjects (one of which, a scene at the Cirque Fernando, is included in the exhibition), the National Gallery picture is his only circus-themed painting.

Mss La La Few biographical details are known about Olga, the aerialist known variously as Miss La La, La Femme Cannon, L’affût vivant, La Mulàtresse-Cannon, the Venus of the Tropics, and the Black Venus. Born in Prussia in 1858 to a black father and white mother, she began performing around age ten. She later became the star attraction of the traveling Troupe Kaira, which also featured renowned trapeze artist Theophila Szterker (1864-1888), known as Kaira la Blanche, and two supporting members whose identities are revealed for the first time in the exhibition.

Miss La La was renowned for her seemingly super-human displays of strength but, notably, Degas chose not to record her most sensational feat — a carefully orchestrated, complicated tableau in which she hung upside down from a trapeze, gripping a canon weighing over one hundred-fifty pounds between her teeth as it was fired with a “tremendous report” — that earned her the epithet, “La Femme Cannon.” Instead, he depicted her iron-jaw suspension act, showing the performer ethereal, weightless, and enveloped in a radiant light, rising to the heights of the circus ceiling in a composition evocative of saints rising in apotheosis.

Degas’s drawing of Miss La La alongside the dental apparatus used in her performance — sketched a year or more after the completion of the painting — suggests that the artist was afforded a closer look at the implement during some kind of personal exchange with the entertainer. This may have been on the occasion of her visit to his studio, located close to the Cirque Fernando on rue Fontaine, to which Degas referred in a letter to his friend, the writer Edmond de Goncourt, whose circus-themed novel was published weeks after Degas completed the painting.

The Cirque Fernando Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando is as much a depiction of the circus building in which the aerial act took place as it is of the aerialist herself. Degas devoted a series of studies to this aspect of the composition, often including annotations to aid him in producing a more accurate rendering of the space. (One careful drawing of the circus architecture is inscribed “les fermes sont plus penchés,” “the rafters are more inclined”).

An American visitor to Paris writing in 1869 remarked that, next to theater and opera, the circus was the most popular form of entertainment in Paris. The Cirque Fernando debuted on October 8, 1873, under the directorship of equestrian Ferdinand Beert, known as Fernando. Its original, temporary structure was replaced by a permanent edifice that opened on the same site on June 25, 1875, where it stood for nearly a century until its demolition in 1972. In 1897 the Cirque Fernando was renamed the Cirque Medrano after the popular clown Geronimo Medrano, known as “Boum-Boum.”

The Cirque Fernando attracted all social classes, whose ranks were preserved by the seating arrangements: thirty spacious reserved seats; 420 first class seats; 630 second class seats, 1,000 third class seats, and standing room for an additional 420 onlookers.

The main part of the building — a 16-sided polygon — was 70 feet high. There is no known photographic record of the interior of the Cirque Fernando, but ample early written accounts and printed images reveal much about its appearance. Its most iconic feature was its red and white ring, represented in Renoir’s Two Little Circus Girls, painted in the same year as Miss La La; in various depictions by Toulouse-Lautrec of the circus’s famed equestrian performances, one of which is on display; and in Henry-Gabriel Ibels’s images of a clown, almost certainly “Boum-Boum,” represented in the exhibition by two lithographs.

Choosing to omit the ring, spectators, and nearly all other elements of the circus in his painting, Degas instead focused his attention on Miss La La and a portion of the Cirque Fernando’s ribbed and coved ceiling. Miss La La’s outstretched arms and legs masterfully echo the building’s green iron ribs and trusses and slender orange columns, although those elements of the composition evidently caused the painter some vexation. According to the painter Walter Sickert (1860-1942), who saw Miss La La with Degas in his studio, Degas was so daunted by the building’s steeply-viewed architecture that he enlisted a specialist to assist him with this aspect of the composition. Technical evidence appears to corroborate this account, revealing Degas’s repeated, unsatisfactory attempts to render the angled trusses, columns, and other architectural elements he had assiduously studied in his notebook; indeed, it appears that he delineated the roof beams no fewer than three times.

Of Degas, the novelist Goncourt remarked, “Among all the artists I have met so far, he is the one who has best been able, in representing modern life, to catch the spirit of that life.” The “poetic reality” — realism transformed by artifice — that Goncourt sought to create in writing his circus novel is what Degas, too, was striving for in his circus invention. What initially appears to be a faithful record of a scene from modern urban life is, in reality, a deliberate artistic invention that conceals and obscures more than it reveals. Although he deliberately omitted the more mundane details of the full circus scene, Degas did reveal the mechanical apparatus behind the artifice of the performance — the rope by which Miss La La was held aloft—thus puncturing the illusion of his carefully crafted scene of modernity and, in doing so, acknowledging the irony of the poetic reality he so carefully constructed.  

Catalogue Degas, Miss La La, and the Cirque Fernando is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, written by Linda Wolk-Simon, curator of the exhibition, with additional contributions by Nancy Ireson and Eveline Baseggio Omiccioli. It presents new biographical and historical findings about Miss La La and her troupe, and a revealing discussion about the popularity of the circus as a venue for artists in Paris in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Available at the Morgan Shop and online at www.themorgan.org/shop.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) The Cirque Fernando Architectural Study, Black and red chalk and pencil on two sheets of joined pink paper, 18-7/8 x 12-3/8",. 38.10, The Trustees of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) Sketchbook (notebook 29), 19th century Pencil, charcoal, blue chalk, Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. 2004.35 Photography: Graham S. Haber.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901 ) At the Circus: The Spanish Walk, (Au Cirque: Le Pas espagnol), 1899, Graphite, black and colored crayons, and charcoal, 13-3/4 x 9-13/16", 1975.1.731, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art Image Source: Art Resource, NY.

Edgar Degas, Nude Woman Drying Herself, 1884-92, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of The Brooklyn Museum, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, Nude Woman Lying on Her Back, Study for Scene of War in the Middle Ages, 1863-65, Black chalk on paper, Musée d'Orsay.

The Evolution and Development of Nudes in Edward Degas' Practice

Edgar Degas, The Tub, 1886, Pastel, Paris, Musée d'Orsay, bequest of comte Issac de Camondo, 1911, © photo Musée d'Orsay / rmn.

Edgar Degas, Woman Leaving Her Bath, about 1886, Pastel over monotype, Private Collection, courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, After the Bath, 1890-96, Pastel on brown cardboard, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mrs. J. Montgomery Sears, Photo: Allan Macintyre, © President and Fellows of Harvard College, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, Woman Seated on a Bathtub Sponging Her Neck, 1880-95, Oil and essence on paper, Paris, Musée d'Orsay, © Photo Musée d'Orsay / rmn, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Eugéne Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus, 1844, Oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Henry McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986, Image Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, After the Bath, Woman Drying Her Neck, 1886-95, Pastel on brown cardboard, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mrs. J. Montgomery Sears, Photo: Allan Macintyre © President and Fellows of Harvard College, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, Two Bathers on the Grass, 1886-95, Pastel, Paris, Musée d'Orsay, © Photo Musée d'Orsay / rmn, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, Nude Woman Combing Her Hair, 1879-83, Monotype in black ink on paper Paris, Musée d'Orsay, (conservé au département des Arts graphiques du Musée de Louvre) © Photo Musée d'Orsay / rmn, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, La Toilette, 1884-86, Pastel over monotype laid down on board, Private Collection, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts..

Edgar Degas, After the Bath, Woman Drying Her Neck, 1886-95, Pastel on wove paper, Paris, Musée d'Orsay, bequest of comte Isaac de Camondo, 1911, © Photo Musée d'Orsay / rmn, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, The Serious Client, 1876-77, Monotype on wove paper, Photo © National Gallery of Canada. National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa, *Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Gustave Caillebotte, Man at His Bath, 1884, Oil on canvas, Private Collection, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Ann and Graham Gund Gallery
Degas and the Nude

October 9, 2011-February 5, 2012

The first museum exhibition devoted exclusively to the extraordinary range of nudes by Edgar Degas traces their evolution from the artist’s early years, through the private and public images of brothels and bathers in the 1870s and 1880s, to the post-Impressionist nudes of the end of his career, Paris.

Degas and the Nude offers a groundbreaking examination of Degas’s concept of the human body during the course of 50 years by showing his work in the broader context of his forebears, contemporaries, and followers in 19th-century France, among them Ingres, Delacroix, Cassatt, Caillebotte, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, and Picasso. Assembled from the collections of more than 50 lenders from around the world are approximately 165 works — 145 by Degas — including paintings, pastels, drawings, monotypes, etchings, lithographs, and sculptures, many of which have never been on view in the United States.

The 19th-century French artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917), a founding member of the Impressionist group who gravitated toward realism, is acclaimed for his mastery of a wide range of genres, which he executed in all media using a variety of techniques. In addition to his famous depictions of ballet dancers or racing subjects, Degas’s work also included history paintings, portraits, landscapes, and scenes of urban leisure.

This exhibition, however, will focus entirely on his nudes, illustrating the transformation of Degas’s treatment of the human form throughout half a century — from early life drawings in the 1850s, to overtly sexual imagery, to gritty realist nudes, and beyond to the lyrical and dynamic bodies of the last decade of his working life when the theme dominated his artistic production in all media.

Degas and the Nude will be a revelation for our visitors. It will offer a number of surprises — for instance, we’ll reunite several of Degas’s black-and-white monotypes with the corresponding pastel 'twins' for the first time since they left the artist’s studio,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “Visitors will see the progression of his nudes and the very heart of Degas’s fascination with the body and its range of emotion and movement. He pursued that fascination in portraits, and above all in images of dancers, but in the nude we see the body in its purest form … through Degas’s eye and imagination.”

Degas and the Nude draws from some of the finest collections in the world. In addition to the MFA and Musée d’Orsay — the single largest lender, with more than 60 works — these include National Gallery and Courtauld Gallery, London; Musée Andre Malraux, Le Havre; museums and private collections in Germany, Japan, and Switzerland; as well as Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many other museums and private collections in North America.

The exhibition features such masterpieces as Young Spartans Exercising (1860-62, National Gallery, London) and Scene of War in the Middle Ages (1863-65, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), two of Degas’s greatest history paintings; and The Tub (about 1886, Musée d’Orsay), a pastel completed at the height of his career and presented at the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886.

It also offers context to this exploration of the artist’s nudes by juxtaposing his works with those created by major artists who influenced — or were influenced by — Degas, including Ingres’s Angelica Saved by Ruggiero (1819-39, National Gallery, London), Caillebotte’s Man at his Bath (1884, Private Collection), and Picasso’s Nude on a Red Background (1906, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris).

More than three years in the making, Degas and the Nude was conceived by George T.M. Shackelford, Chair, Art of Europe and Arthur K. Solomon Curator of Modern Art at the MFA, who co-organized the exhibition with Xavier Rey, Curator of Paintings, Musée d'Orsay. “Our project explores how Degas exploited all of the body’s expressive possibilities,” Shackelford said. “It shows how his personal vision of the nude informed his notion of modernity, and how he abandoned the classical or historical form in favor of a figure seen in her own time and setting, whether engaged in shockingly carnal acts or just stepping out of an ordinary bath.”

“The first works by Degas to enter the collections of the French State were pastels of nudes bequeathed to the nation by Gustave Caillebotte in 1894,” said Xavier Rey, exhibition co-curator. “In the ensuing century, the Musée d’Orsay has become the world’s greatest repository of Degas’s depictions of the nude — in paintings, pastels, drawings, and sculpture. We take pride in co-organizing this major international project, which will be one of the important exhibitions in Paris in 2012.”

Degas and the Nude is organized into six sections, which will explore: Degas’s earliest nudes, from about 1855 to 1862; The artist’s early masterwork, Scene of War in the Middle Ages, and the studies that preceded it; Brothel monotypes Degas executed in the latter half of the 1870s; Transformation of Degas’s brothel imagery to scenes of daily life; Select works from the artist’s key years of 1884-86; Degas’s last years as an artist, from about 1890 to 1905.

The exhibition begins with a selection of the artist’s first nudes, including Study of Michelangelo’s Bound Slave (1855-60, Private Collection), one of Degas’s many studies of works by Renaissance artists that he made in Paris or in Italy, where he drew from live models at Rome’s French Academy.

Many life studies and paintings created as part of this early academic training will be on display, as well as drawings made for early figural compositions, culminating in the painting Young Spartans Exercising (1860–62, National Gallery, London), a depiction of girls beckoning or taunting a group of boys, with the landscape of ancient Sparta as a background.

One of Degas’s most notable works incorporating nudes, the history painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, is the focal point of the second section of the exhibition. The often overlooked masterpiece was the first work Degas exhibited at the official Salon in 1865. It offers an early view of some of the many poses the artist would repeat through his career. Complementing it are more than a dozen of the studies that preceded it, as well as works by other artists who exerted an influence on Degas in the conception and elaboration of the painting, such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), whose Angelica Saved by Ruggiero will be displayed along with a masterwork by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863): The Death of Sardanapalus (1844, Philadelphia Museum of Art). These two French masters, as well as artists such as Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828) and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824–1898), provided inspiration for the young Degas. Two paintings by Degas from the later 1860s also will be shown: Interior (The Rape) (1868–69, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Peasant Girls Bathing in the Sea at Dusk (about 1869, revised later, Private Collection).

The exhibition’s third section is devoted to brothel monotypes that Degas executed in the latter half of the 1870s — images at times caricature-like, ironic, pornographic, or even unexpectedly tender. These often sexually explicit scenes depict women in brothels: waiting for clients, as in The Reluctant Client (1876-77, National Gallery of Canada), and engaging in sexual acts, as in Two Women (1876–77, MFA). Most of these works are small in scale, made as drawings using brush and greasy ink on metal plates, then printed to yield one proof (“mono-type”); sometimes a second, fainter, impression was taken. The monotypes were occasionally touched with pastel; some — more often the second impressions — were covered with color to become small pictures, ready for sale or gift.The evolution of Degas’s nudes continues in a following section, shifting from overtly sexual imagery to the everyday, “naturalist” nudes, as seen in the artist’s spontaneous views of ordinary, seemingly unposed women at various stages of undress or performing “la toilette” — bathing, drying, or grooming themselves. These monotypes highlight the emergence of the bather as a central theme in Degas’s art — one that he would explore from the middle of the 1880s until the end of his career. Many of these later monotypes were made in a way that differed from the first ones, showing the artist’s interest in exploring a variety of techniques and materials. Rather than painting his image with a brush, Degas inked the entire plate and “pulled” the image out of the ink with selective wiping and scraping. In this section, some monotypes will be united with their corresponding pastels for what is believed to be the first time. These include the monotype Woman in a Bathtub (about 1850-85, Private Collection), and the pastel over monotype Woman in Her Bath, Sponging her Leg (1883-84, Musée d’Orsay). Other pastels and oil paintings will be featured here, as well as comparisons to the work of Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926), Woman Bathing (1890-91, Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), La Toilette (Rousse) (1889, Musée d’Orsay). The section culminates in a group of large-scale oil paintings by Degas and his friends Gustave Caillbotte (1848–1894) and Henri Gervex (1852–1929), made between the years 1878 and about 1884.

Works from a pivotal time in Degas’s career, 1884-86, are examined in section five of the exhibition. Two examples, The Tub (1885-86, Musée d’Orsay) and Woman Dressing Herself (1885-86, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) were included in the last Impressionist exhibition, held in Paris in the spring of 1886. In addition, comparative paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Woman Combing Her Hair (1882-83, Private Collection), and Puvis de Chavannes, Young Woman at Her Toilette (1883, Musée d’Orsay), will be displayed, as well as works from the late 1880s that expand upon those created a few years earlier. Also included will be the sculpture The Tub (Musée d’Orsay, 1889 modeled, cast 1920-21), cast in bronze after the artist’s death.

Degas and the Nude concludes with an exploration of Degas’s last years as an artist, from about 1890 to 1905. “During this period, Degas is focused almost exclusively on the bather, with the exception of a few great drawings and sculptures depicting dancers. His color sense grows bolder, and as he nears the end of the 1890s, his painting and drawing technique become more experimental and, likewise, more bold,” explained Shackelford. “Influences of such artists as Gauguin and Rodin are felt in his painted compositions and sculpture. Sinuous lines, sensual hatchings, delicate blending and shading, and large scale mark his later charcoal drawings of bathers, among the most accomplished sheets in his career, and a radical departure from the carefully rendered nudes of 1855–1865.” Featured here will be the largest single grouping in the exhibition, which will showcase Degas’s masterpieces, After the Bath (about 1896, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and After the Bath (1895-1900, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC). In addition, to illustrate Degas’s influence on the next generation of great artists, paintings by Degas will be juxtaposed with those by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Henry Matisse (1889-1954), and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). In the context of Degas’s great nudes of the 1890s, Bonnard’s Indolence (1899, Musée d’Orsay), Matisse’s Carmelina (1903, MFA), and Picasso’s Nude on a Red Background (1906, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris) take on new meaning, as masterworks by the youthful standard-bearers of Degas’s post-Impressionist style in a new century.

Biography (Adapted from Grove Dictionary of Art) Edgar Degas, a founding member of the Impressionist group, who later embraced a more Realist style, was a French painter, draughtsman, printmaker, sculptor, pastel artist, photographer, and collector. The eldest son of a Parisian banking family, he was born in Paris on July 19, 1834, and died there on September 27, 1917. Degas began his studies copying the 15th- and 16th-century Italian works in the Musée du Louvre in Paris and in 1854 he entered the studio of Louis Lamothe (1822-69), a former pupil of Ingres, who schooled Degas in the classical tradition. As a result of this training, reinforced by a year at the École des Beaux-Arts (1855-56), Degas developed a rigorous drawing style and an appreciation for the importance of line that is reflected in his 50-year career as a classical painter of modern life.

For several years, beginning in 1856, Degas traveled throughout Italy, studying and copying the masters, which influenced his later career. In 1859, Degas returned to Paris, then visited Italy again and Normandy, the latter inspiring his first racehorse scene, Gentlemen’s Race: Before the Start (Musée d’Orsay, Paris). In 1865, Degas exhibited the Misfortunes of the City of Orléans (Musée d’Orsay) at the Salon, continuing to work on history paintings, such as Young Spartans Exercising (1860-62; National Gallery, London), after which he focused on portraits and images of racing.

In the 1860s, Degas began to incorporate (as did other Impressionists) scenes of urban leisure in his work, later turning his attention to dance and opera in the following decade. Degas served in the Franco-Prussian War for one year (1870-71), after which he traveled extensively in Europe and to the United States. Throughout the 1870s, Degas exhibited his works in group shows with other Impressionists, but, unlike them, he rarely painted en plein air and usually preferred to work from memory and sketches, seeing himself more as a Realist or Naturalist painter. He favored urban subjects and used artificial light in his keen observations of everyday life that illustrated unposed, spontaneous scenes. Degas was also fascinated by new inventions and techniques, especially in relation to his works on paper and canvas and in his sculptures.

From 1876 to 1881, the artist exhibited his works at five Impressionist exhibitions. Although his prints and pastels were inexpensive, their subject matter — brothel scenes and low-life — was unpopular and Degas’s tendency toward Naturalism was criticized when he showed his Little Fourteen-year-old Dancer (wax original; Upperville, VA, Paul Mellon private collection), wearing a real tulle tutu and satin ribbon, at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881. By this time, Degas was a major figure in the Parisian art world, no longer affected by financial troubles that he encountered previously. This freed him to pursue his new interest: women at work, including dancers, milliners, cabaret singers, and laundresses. The human figure acquired even greater importance in a series of pastels of women washing themselves, such as The Tub (1886, Musée d’Orsay, Paris).

After the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, Degas stopped presenting works at group shows and instead sold them to a small number of dealers. The major works of this period are mainly pastels, variations on the themes of milliners, ironers, and women at their toilette. During the last years of Degas’s career, although his work moved away from Naturalism, the artist began a series of landscapes in color monotype. The end of the 1890s saw new and still more intense colors in his work. After 1900, Degas began to use tracing paper as a support, drawing a strong black outline and using vibrant colors (After the Bath, 1896-1907, Musée des Artes Décoratifs). Failing eyesight and poor health precipitated the end of Degas’s career in 1912.

Catalogue Degas and the Nude (MFA Publications, October 2011) is the first book in a generation to explore the artist’s treatment of the nude from his early years in the 1850s and 1860s, through his triumphs in the 1880s and 1890s, all the way to the last decades of his working career. It aims to provide a comprehensive interpretation of Degas’s evolving conception of the nude and to situate it in the subject’s broader context among his peers in 19th-century France. The 336-page book by co-curators George T.M. Shackelford, Chair, Art of Europe and Solomon Curator of Modern Art at the MFA, and Xavier Rey, Curator of Paintings, Musée d'Orsay, features essays by them and contributions by the painter Lucien Freud with author Martin Gayford, and by Orsay curator Anne Roquebert. More than 200 color images present a new look at Degas’s subject in paintings, pastels, drawings, prints, and sculptures. The price is $65 (hardcover) and $45 (softcover). Degas and the Nude is available in the Museum’s three shops and online at www.mfa.org/publications. The exhibition catalogue was given generous support by the Andrew W. Mellon Publications Fund and Scott and Isabelle Black.

Edgar Degas, The Morning Bath, about 1887-90, Pastel on off-white laid paper mounted on board, Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer Collection, 1922.422, The Art Institute of Chicago. Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago.

Edgar Degas, Nude Woman, Standing, about 1878, Black chalk and pastel on blue wove paper, Paris, Musée d'Orsay, © photo Musée d'Orsay / rmn, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Paul Gauguin, The Moon and Earth (Hina Tefatou), 1893, Oil on burlap, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Lillie P. Bliss Collection, 1934, © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Edgar Degas, Scene of War in the Middle Ages, 1863-65, Oil on paper, Paris, Musée d'Orsay, © Photo Musée d'Orsay / rmn, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Auguste (René´) Rodin, Danaid, 1889-90, Marble, Musée d'Orsay (Dépot au Musée Rodin).


Edgar Degas, Dancer Looking at the Sole of her Right Foot, modeled between 1896-1911, Bronze, Paris, Musée d'Orsay, acquired through the generosity of the heirs of the artist and of Hébrard, © Photo Musée d'Orsay / rmn, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Edgar Degas, Dancer (Preparation en dedans), c. 1880-85, Charcoal with stumping on buff paper, 336 x 227 mm, Trinity House, London and New York.

Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson, c. 1879, Oil on canvas, 38 x 88 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1995.47.6, Photo National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Edgar Degas, Capturing Dance Movement on Paper and with Oils

Edgar Degas, Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer's Opera 'Robert le Diable', 1876, Oil on canvas, 76.6 x 81.3 cm, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Image copyright V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Edgar Degas, La Danse Grecque (Dancing Ballerinas), 1885-90, Pastel on joined paper laid down on board, 580 x 490 mm, On loan from the Honorable Earle I. Mack Collection.

Edgar Degas, Dancers, c. 1899, Pastel on tracing paper laid down on board, 588 x 463 mm, Princeton University Art Museum. Bequest of Henry K. Dick, Class of 1909. Image Bruce M. White.


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Main Galleries
Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement
September 17-December 11, 2011

The Royal Academy of Arts stages a landmark exhibition focusing on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance. Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement traces the development of the artist’s ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years. The exhibition is the first to present Degas’s progressive engagement with the figure in movement in the context of parallel advances in photography and early film; indeed, the artist was keenly aware of these technological developments and often directly involved with them. The exhibition will comprise around 85 paintings, sculptures, pastels, drawings, prints and photographs by Degas, as well as photographs by his contemporaries and examples of early film. It will bring together selected material from public institutions and private collections in Europe and North America including both celebrated and little-known works by Degas.

Highlights of the exhibition include such masterpieces as the celebrated sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1880-81, cast. c.1922, Tate, London), displayed with a group of outstanding preparatory drawings that together show the artist tracking around his subject like a cinematic eye; Dancer Posing for a Photograph (1875, Pushkin State Museum of Art, Moscow); Dancer on Pointe (c. 1877-78, Private collection); The Dance Lesson (c. 1879, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC); Dancers in a Rehearsal Room with a Double Bass (c. 1882-85, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and Three Dancers (c. 1903, Beyeler Foundation, Basel).

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement explores the fascinating links between Degas’s highly original way of viewing and recording the dance and the inventive experiments being made at the same time in photography by Jules-Etienne Marey and Eadweard Muybridge and in film-making by such pioneers as the Lumière brothers. By presenting the artist in this context, the exhibition will demonstrate that Degas was far more than merely the creator of beautiful images of the ballet, but instead a modern, radical artist who thought profoundly about visual problems and was fully attuned to the technological developments of his time.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas was born in Paris in 1834. His father was a banker from a Neapolitan family and his mother a French Créole from New Orleans. After studying briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Degas travelled in Italy, largely teaching himself by copying works of art in museums and churches. From 1865 to 1870 he regularly submitted large historical compositions to the Salon, but in around 1870 he began to concentrate on subjects from modern life, including the dance. A leader of the Impressionists, Degas exhibited regularly at their group exhibitions. Apart from the dance, racehorses and bathing women were his principal subjects. Increasing blindness forced Degas to give up working in around 1912. He died in Montmartre in 1917.

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement is curated by Richard Kendall, Curator at Large, The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA; Jill DeVonyar, independent curator; and Ann Dumas, Exhibition Curator, Royal Academy of Arts.

Edgar Degas, The Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, 1880-1, cast c. 1922, Painted bronze with muslin and silk, 98.4 x 36.5 cm, Tate. Purchased with assistance from The Art Fund 1952, Image copyright Tate, London, 2010.

Edgar Degas, The Rehearsal, c. 1874, Oil on canvas, 58.4 x 83.8 cm, Lent by Culture and Sport Glasgow on behalf of Glasgow City Council. Gifted by Sir William and Lady Constance Burrell to the City of Glasgow, 1944. Image © Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums).

Edgar Degas, Three Studies of a Dancer, ca. 1880, Black chalk, Conté´ crayon (?), and pink chalk, heightened with white chalk, on blue paper faded to light brown
Gift of a foundation in honor of Eugene and Clare Thaw, 2001.

Edgar Degas, Self-Portrait, ca. 1856, Black chalk, Thaw Collection.

Edgar Degas, Drawings and Works on Paper over His Career

Edgar Degas, Emilie Bécat at the Café´ des Ambassadeurs, 1877/1885, Pastel over lithograph, Thaw Collection.

Edgar Degas, Seated Dancer, ca. 1871, Oil paint thinned with turpentine over pencil, on pink paper, Thaw Collection.

Edgar Degas, Self-Portrait in a Brown Vest, 1856, Oil on paper, mounted on canvas, Bequest of John S. Thacher, 1985.

Edgar Degas, Achille Henri Victor Gouffé (1804-1874), Double-Bass Player at the Paris Opéra,1869,
Graphite with two extraneous spots of oil, Thaw Collection.

Edgar Degas, Race Horse, 1878, Charcoal, on light brown paper, Thaw Collection.


The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue
at 36th Street
New York

Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery
Degas: Drawings and Sketchbooks
September 24, 2010-January 23, 2011

Degas began studying law in Paris in 1853, though he soon turned his attention to copying works in the Louvre. Later, he entered the studio of Louis Lamothe, who was a pupil of Ingres and also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. He left Paris in July 1856 to study independently in Rome, where he filled sketchbooks and sheets with studies of models and copies of old masters. Study of a Male Nude dates from his first year in Rome and reflects the artist’s early academic efforts.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), founding member of the Impressionist group who was distinguished by his Realist tendencies, is renowned for his vigorous images of dancers, performers, and theater scenes in paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Throughout his career, he used drawing in dynamic and varied ways to explore these recurring subjects.

The exhibition features some 20 exceptional drawings by Degas, along with two of his sketchbooks, demonstrating the iconic artist’s characteristic daring and inventiveness. The show includes works depicting quintessential Degas subjects — from his earliest portraits of himself, family members, and friends to his later intensive studies of dancers and performers.

“As a medium, drawing often provides a more personal and intimate glimpse of an artist’s creative process than either painting or sculpture, and the works on view in this exhibition are no exception,” said William M. Griswold, director of The Morgan Library & Museum. “The artist is known for his bold Degas’ willingness to push himself in new directions.”

Thirty-eight sketchbooks by Degas have survived essentially intact. They cover the period between 1853and 1886 and constitute the most significant sustained record of any Impressionist artist. The show includes two sketchbooks: one from early in Degas’ career, during his first trip to Italy, the other datable to the height of his fame in Paris. The early sketchbook contains diligent student work, such as sketches of antique statuary and copies of Renaissance frescoes and paintings. The subjects range from the whimsical to the thoughtful, with quick portraits of dinner guests, sketches of dancers, and scenes from a Turkish bath in the later notebook.

Also on view from Degas’ early years in Italy are Self-Portrait and Details of Hand and Eye (ca. 1856) and Self-Portrait (ca. 1856). These two studies in black chalk were private exercises in proficiency and discipline and remained in portfolios in the artist’s studio until after his death. Another work, Self-Portrait in a Brown Vest (1856), a more tentative exploration in oil on paper, reveals Degas’ continued use of himself as subject as he came to grasp the rudiments of portraiture.

In addition to self-portraiture, Degas depicted his friends and family throughout his career in works such as Portrait of Paul and Marguerite-Claire Valpinçon (1861) and Rosa Adelaide Aurora Degas, the Duchess Morbilli (ca. 1857). Paul Valpinçon was a friend of Degas from his school days, and Rosa Degas was the eldest sister of the artist’s father.

Degas’ much-heralded explorations of dancers — in rehearsal, on stage, and at rest — began in the 1870s and intensified during the ensuing decades. This period also marked the beginning of his success as an artist. One of Degas’ principal concerns as a draftsman was analyzing the movements and gestures of the female body. On view are several drawings featuring dancers, including Three Studies of a Dancer (ca. 1880), easily recognizable as the study for the celebrated wax sculpture Little Dancer, Fourteen Years Old, depicting the young dancer Marie van Goethem. In this large sheet, the artist studied her from three different angles,attempting to understand the figure in the round in preparation for sculpting it.

Other examples of drawings with dancers include Seated Dancer (ca. 1871), one of the studies for Dance Class at the Opéra on the Rue le Peletier, now in Musée d’Orsay in Paris, as well as Two Studies of Dancers (ca.1873), Dancer with Arms Outstretched (ca. 1878), and Two Studies of a Ballet Dancer (ca. 1872).

Though noted for his attention to the female figure, Degas executed many studies of grouped horses and jockeys from which he would use figures in later compositions. Group of Four Jockeys, with its play of intersecting lines of movement, conveys the tension and frequent conflicts in the paddock before a race. Thedrawing also provides an exceptional example of Degas’ remarkable inventiveness as he reworked and revised a particular scene over a significant span of years. He initially executed this compositional study circa 1868 and then returned to it about a decade later to combine the elements in the last stages of preparation for the painting Racecourse Scene.

Later in his career, Degas experimented with mixing drawing media and printmaking techniques as seen in •Emilie Bécat at the Café des Ambassadeurs. He began the drawing in 1885 using an impression from his 1877-78 lithograph of a concert at Café des Ambassadeurs, which he extended along the bottom and right edges, and drew over in dense strokes of pastel. Significantly altering the composition of the print, he added the three female spectators in the foreground. The women’s dark silhouettes, in shades of blue and ochre, are contrasted against the bright pink dress of Emilie Bécat. Degas used the range of pastels to capture the effects of various light sources in this nocturnal scene and suggests the difference between the mundane and the magical world of the theater.

At the Theater; the Duet (1877-79) is another example of how the artist expertly combined pastel and print. Degas first produced a monotype — a unique print made from drawing in ink on a metal or glass plate — of two singers on stage, seen from behind, with a view to the audience. He then enlivened the print with richly colored pastels. The subject in this work is again Emilie Bécat, who appears with another of Degas’ favorite performers, Theresa (Emma Valadon).

Also on view is Landscape with Path Leading to a Copse of Trees (ca. 1890). While Degas is not known as a landscape artist, this work demonstrates how he further explored the medium of monotype. This sheet was made during the artist’s visit to the painter and printmaker Georges Jeanniot (1846-1934) in the village of Diénay near Dijon. There Degas recalled scenery from the drive through the Burgundian countryside and produced about fifty monotype landscapes. To create this drawing, he used oil paint (and apparently his fingers) to indicate a few lines of landscape on the plate and printed one or two proofs, hanging them to dry. Later, he completed the composition with a rich layer of pastel.

Degas: Drawings and Sketchbooks is organized by Jennifer Tonkovich, Curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints at The Morgan Library & Museum.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Standing Man in a Bowler Hat, ca. 1870, Oil paint thinned with turpentine, on brown paper, Stamped in red ink at lower left corner, Degas. 323 x 201 mm, Bequest of John S. Thacher; 1985.39.

Edgar Degas, Study of a Seated Woman, 1868-69, Oil paint thinned with turpentine, over graphite, on tan paper, mounted on canvas Bequest of John S. Thacher, 1985.

Edgar Degas, Rosa Adelaide Aurora Degas, The Duchess Morbilli, ca. 1857, Black, gray, and pink wash, with some, white gouache, over graphite, Thaw Collection.

Edgar Degas, Sketchbook (folio 27), ca. 1880 and after, Chiefly graphite, with touches of charcoal and a few leaves executed in blue chalk, on wove paper, mostly white, with some light brown, tan, and gray sheets, Thaw Collection.

Edgar Degas, Landscape with Path Leading to a Copse of Trees, ca. 1890-92, Pastel over monotype in thinned oil paint, Thaw Collection.

Edgar Degas, Zwei Badende auf der Wiese,1886-1890, Pastell auf braunem Papier, 70 x 70 cm, © Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Edgar Degas' Sculptures in the Context of Studies of the Female Body

Edgar Degas, Große Arabeske, zweite Position, Bronze, 43 x 28 x 61 cm, Hamburger Kunsthalle, © Hamburger Kunsthalle/bpk, Photo: Elke Walford.

Edgar Degas, Das Wannenbad, Pastell auf Karton, 60 x 83 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, © bpk/RMN/Hervé Lewadowski.

Edgar Degas, Vier Tänzerinnen auf der Bühne, um 1885-1890, Öl auf Leinwand, 72 x 92 cm, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, © Luiz Hossaka.

Edgar Degas, Tänzerin, an einer Säule lehnend, um 1895-1898, Kohle auf Papier, 69 x 53 cm, © Museum Folkwang, Essen.


Hamburger Kunsthalle
Stiftung öffentlichen Rechts
+ 49 (0) 40 428 131 200
Hubertus Wald-Forum
Edgar Degas.
Intimacy and Pose

February 6-May 3, 2009

In addition to his many well-known pastels and paintings, the French Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834-1917) also made numerous sculptures, but the large majority of these were never presented to the public.

Shortly after his death, the figures of dancers, bathers and racehorses he had originally modelled in wax were secured, and in 1919 they were cast in bronze. The exhibition Intimacy and Pose presents the complete set of 73 original bronze casts. During his lifetime Degas only ever exhibited one of the wax sculptures — Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (Little Dancer Aged Fourteen) — which caused a sensation at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881 due to the remarkable naturalism of the figure.

The central theme of Intimacy and Pose is Degas’ unique perspective on the female body. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Degas was not primarily interested in presenting staged poses in his sculptural work; he preferred to capture the posture and movements of women when they felt unobserved.

His preoccupation with these private moments resulted in "intimate poses:" dancers rehearsing ballet positions, tying their shoes or examining their feet; women
combing their hair or washing themselves.

Above all, Degas depicts women waiting off-stage and at their toilette. By focussing on the work they have to invest in their bodies before appearing in public, he draws our attention to the care and disciplined training of the body, but also to moments of relaxation.

This unidealized view of the unadorned female body and its preparation — a highly unusual perspective at that time and one which occasionally shocked viewers and critics — is also addressed in the impressive selection of drawings, pastels and paintings on show here alongside the bronze sculptures.

Degas himself once remarked upon his depictions of women: “Hitherto the nude has always been represented in poses which presuppose an audience. But my women are simple, honest creatures who are concerned with nothing beyond their physical occupations.

It is as if you were looking through a keyhole.” The intimacy of the moment in no way exposes the subjects, however. Degas’ detached view instead captures the distinctive expression of the poses. His eschewal of staged femininity in favour of the aesthetic quality of the sculpture or picture is revolutionary in its approach.

A comprehensive catalogue has been published to accompany the exhibition. Available from the museum shop for EUR 35.

Curators of the exhibition: Prof. Dr. Hubertus Gaßner and Dr. des Dorothee Gerkens.

A slightly smaller version of the exhibition was shown at the Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid from October 2008 to January 2009, curated by Pablo Jiménez Burillo. The sculptures have been generously loaned by the Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, São Paulo, Brazil.

Edgar Degas, Kleine Tänzerin von 14 Jahren, um 1878-1881, Bronze, 96 x 34 x 36 cm, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, © Fernando Maquieira.

Edgar Degas, Abschluss der Arabeske, 1877, Öl und Pastellkreide auf Holz, © Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Edgar Degas, Vor dem Spiegel, um 1889, Pastell auf Papier, 49 x 64 cm, Hamburger Kunsthalle, © Hamburger Kunsthalle/bpk, Photo: Elke Walfe.