This painter who “didn’t like women,” in van Gogh’s estimation, found at the Opéra [de Paris] an arena of desire and depredation that he could translate into pure form — beautiful and stifling, modern and cold. This is the truth about superfans: they smother what they love.
Jason Farago writes about the louche milieu that spawned images of dancers that are now “schmaltzy stalwarts of dorm-room posters.”
In the year 1885 alone, Degas went 55 times to the still-new Palais Garnier. He saw one opera… at least 37 times… In late 19th-century Paris, opera was a social spectacle that made it an ideal subject for a painter of modern life… Degas went as often as he could afford it… He trained his eye on both the stage and the audience…
Belgian-born Marie van Goethem was the model for Degas’s statue “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.”
Instead of capturing her mid-plié, Degas chose to sculpt her standing in the awkward fourth position, feet perpendicular to the torso and pointing in opposite directions. He gave her a sharp jaw and a forehead like a ski slope. To her body he affixed a real tutu, and real human hair… “Why is she so ugly?” wrote the critic for Le Temps…
… In Degas’s… superficially sunnier pastels, the dancers… are working girls, bent over, tying their slippers, slumped in the corner — rarely elegant, and always being watched… Degas was an intense misogynist, and the formal innovations of his art went together with an avaricious [?] focus on control… “I have perhaps,” he once confessed, “too often considered woman as an animal.”
(Jason Farago, “Degas: A Superfan at the Opera, Where Art Tips Into Obsession,” NYTimes, 11-15-19)
(c) 2019 JMN