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Description: Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society
The editorialist of Le Temps was of the few who struck such a sour note in 1867. Like the visiting monarchs, most Parisians and visitors in the year of the Universal Exposition enjoyed to the fullest the various entertainments that made Paris “the theater of nations.” The appearance of Thérésa in a proper theater—she had been booked into...
PublisherYale University Press
Related print edition pages: pp.93-139
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4. Theater, Opera, and Dance
Has not the Variétés given such ravishing renderings of Offenbach’s “Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein”… that to hear bewitching Mile. Schneider and make the acquaintance of the Grande Duchesse, Fritz, and Prince Paul, monarch after monarch has rushed there on the very first evening of arrival?
—Henry Morford, 1867
… one is more deliciously stirred by the sight of the ballet corps than by the great arias of the tenor in vogue or the reigning prima donna. They are so eloquent, these little dancers—even those who are not dancing—with their rose jerseys and their gauze skirts! Eloquence of the flesh, certainly!
—Alfred Delvau, 1867
Must we admit that the center of this powerful city… is today an opera house? Must our glory in the future consist above all in perfecting our public entertainments? Are we no longer anything more than the capital of elegance and pleasure?
—Le Temps, 18 August 1867
The editorialist of Le Temps was of the few who struck such a sour note in 1867. Like the visiting monarchs, most Parisians and visitors in the year of the Universal Exposition enjoyed to the fullest the various entertainments that made Paris “the theater of nations.” The appearance of Thérésa in a proper theater—she had been booked into the Théâtre du Châtelet for the duration of the Exposition—confirmed the potency of the café-concert repertoire. Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne was playing, as well as his Grande-Duchesse, and it, too, had pushed aside an old barrier: it was on the boards of the Théâtre français, the first operetta ever to be staged there. Elsewhere in this banner year, the Théâtre lyrique rivaled the opera by giving Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet its premier, and then by presenting in alternation Miolan-Carvalho and Pauline Nilsson. The illustrious Adelina Patti triumphed at the Opéra, which dedicated a season of gala representations to visiting royalty.
Seekers after non-musical theater could take in a revival of The Woodland Doe (La Biche au bois, by Cogniard and Clairville) at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, of Eugène Sue’s Wandering Jew at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu, or of The Seine Boatsmen (Les Canotiers de la Seine, by Thiéry and Dupeuty) at the Folies dramatiques, the latter praised by the leering Henry Morford for its “sensational effects” and “rampant wickedness.”1 Morford 1867, p. 237. For those bent on seeing a new play or review, each of the city’s thirty-odd theaters included at least one in its repertoire (a notable instance: Les Idées de Madame Aubray, by Dumas fils at the Théâtre du Gymnase). Guide books—many published especially for visitors to the Universal Exposition—also steered audiences towards other spectacles: several circuses, a number of concerts, pantomimes, magic shows, puppet and shadow plays, dozens of balls (commercialized dance halls or gardens), and several dozen cafés-concerts. No other European city could boast of this array of organized diversions, and McCabe’s figure of 54,000 seats per night seems a reasonable one.2 McCabe 1869, p. 65.
1867 was a special year, we must admit, for Louis Napoleon and municipal authorities did their utmost to encourage professional entertainment, both for the revenues they earned, and for what Tuckerman called “the holiday antidote” which, he said, “has, for the time at least, neutralized the bane of political discontent.”3 Tuckerman 1867, p. 113. Although accompanied by censorship, the government’s subsidies and encouragements, and its liberalizing of laws relating to theater, led to such a spread of stage entertainments that the rich fare of 1867 shortly afterwards became the normal offering. There was, it is true, a falling off as a consequence of the Franco-Prussian war, the Commune, and their aftermath, but by the middle of the next decade, when the impressionists turned towards theater, opera, and café-concert, there were ten to fifteen more theaters and double the number of cafés-concerts. Some of the latter, like the Bata-clan and the Folies-Bergère, as we saw, were as large as theaters, and they staged operettas, ballets, and short plays, along with vaudeville, circuses, comedians, and singers.
In the 1860s, the impressionists frequented the theater, concerts, the opera, comic opera, and at least occasionally (the evidence is scanty) the circus and the café-concert. Among their friends were actors, actresses, musicians, composers, librettists, and playwrights. They nonetheless did not embark on their paintings of public entertainments until the 1870s. This owes principally to the fact that each of them was in a relatively early stage of career and linked his subjects with those sanctioned by the previous generation and by tradition. A full plunge into contemporary life would require a decade or so of preparation. Renoir, not yet twenty in 1860, passed beyond the level of student by the end of the decade, but concentrated on modernizing established subjects, especially the female nude. His painting The Clown of 1868 was his first major depiction of the world of entertainers; it had no counterpart in his oeuvre for several years.
Degas, seven years Renoir’s senior, painted portraits of a number of musician friends in the late 1860s. An opera lover from boyhood, he only gradually introduced subjects from the opera into his repertoire. His Semiramis Constructing a City of 1860–61, inspired by a revival of Rossini’s opera Semiramis, is essentially a history painting. Eugénie Fiocre in the Ballet “La Source” of 1866–67, based on Saint-Léon’s new ballet, is somewhere between the traditions of history painting and of the orientalizing subjects of the previous generation. In 1868 came the first of his radically modern treatments of the opera, The Orchestra of the Opera (Pl. 91), a prescient work that looked forward to a number of opera and café-concert compositions. The picture began as a portrait of his friend the bassoonist Desiré Dihau. Like vicomte Lepic in Place de la Concorde (Pl. 37), Dihau is placed in an active setting, a participant in Degas’s project to modernize portraiture. To the left is another friend, the cellist and composer Pillet, and to the right is the double-bass player Gouffé. Between Dihau (who occupies the place normally taken by the first violinist) and Gouffé are three known musicians, but on the other side are four friends who were not members of the orchestra.4 The painter Piot-Normand, the composer Souquet, a “doctor Pillot,” and Gard, the Opéra’s dance director. These and other identifications were made in Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 2, no. 186.
Description: The Orchestra at the Opera by Degas, Edgar
91. Degas, The Orchestra of the Opéra, 1868–69. 56.5 × 46.2 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
The Orchestra of the Opéra is held together by an obvious armature of strong diagonals: edge of the orchestra pit, cello, bassoon, and neck of double bass; but for all its deliberate construction, it strikes us as a believable piece of opera life. We are seated in the front row facing the musicians. We look up to the dancers, whose legs are bathed in the glare of footlights. Degas does not include their heads, for our attention would then be drawn away from the foreground. Headless, the dancers form a decorative frieze that stays in the background; legs and arms alone give rhythm to the music. Our front-row view of the dancers is seconded by the head of a man (the composer Chabrier, according to Lemoisne) who peers over the edge of the stage box in the upper-left corner—an amusing touch worthy of Daumier, whose caricatures set a precedent for this kind of composition.5 Boggs 1962, p. 29, drew the parallel, expanded upon in Reff 1976, pp. 76–80, and in Isaacson 1982. Isaacson also illustrates a number of cartoons which reduce dancers to legs being ogled by men. Despite the precocity of this painting, it was only in 1872 that Degas undertook his remarkable and abundant works devoted to all aspects of the opera: audience, musicians, performers on stage, rehearsals, and backstage views.
As for Manet, not only was he older than the others (Renoir’s senior by nine years), he also made his presence known at an earlier age than they. He was thirty-one in 1863 when his Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Pl. 171) at the Salon des Refusés gave him all the notoriety a Parisian dandy could have wished for. His oeuvre was already well stocked with pictures of Parisian entertainments and performers, several of them shown the same year in an exhibition on the grands boulevards at the Galerie Martinet: The Street Singer (Pl. 38), Music in the Tuileries (Pl. 41), The Spanish Ballet (Pl. 92), and Lola de Valence (Pl. 93). The last two were among several works inspired by a dance troupe from Madrid which visited Paris twice in 1862.
Description: Spanish Ballet by Manet, Edouard
92. Manet, The Spanish Ballet, 1862. 61 × 91 cm. Washington, Phillips Collection.
Description: Lola de Valence by Manet, Edouard
93. Manet, Lola de Valence, 1862 (later reworked). 123 × 92 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
For The Spanish Ballet Manet assembled the dancers in Alfred Stevens’s studio, larger than his own. The resulting picture, which evokes Spain in style as well as in subject, speaks more of studio than of stage. Lola de Valence was initially a frank studio pose, but Manet reworked it for his exhibition pavilion of 1867, adding the stage flats and the distant view of performers and audience. In the exhibitions of 1863 and 1867, he appended a sultry quatrain by Baudelaire, inspired by the painting and destined particularly for the related etching of the dancer. Baudelaire’s own notoriety (his famous trial for obscenity had taken place in 1857) would have reinforced Manet’s daring and drawn attention to his predilection for performers and bohemians. Manet also made a slightly different, lithographed version of the same figure for the sheet music Lola de Valence by his friend Zacharie Astruc (Pl. 94).6 For the several paintings, drawings and prints of Lola de Valence and the Spanish troupe, see Manet 1983, nos. 49–53. The best recent analyses of Plates 91 and 92 have been made by Anne McCauley (McCauley 1985, pp. 173–81), who shows Manet’s use of carte-de-visite photographs in their construction. In 1866, he again provided the cover of a music sheet, Plainte moresque, this one for the Catalan guitarist and composer Jaime Bosch. Bosch played at musical evenings at the Manets, for Mme Manet was an accomplished pianist, and evening recitals were a regular feature of their household.
Description: Lola de Valence by Manet, Edouard
94. Manet, Lola de Valence, 1862. Lithograph, 29.5 × 24 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Cabinet des estampes.
If we add to these hispanicizing images the portrait done in 1865–66 of Philibert Rouvière as The Tragic Actor (Pl. 95), we shall have mentioned nearly all of Manet’s images of professional performers done in the 1860s. Looking as they do towards Spanish painting (The Tragic Actor recalls Velasquez), these works continue the French mid-century vogue for Iberian themes and styles most famously represented by Courbet. In that sense they are on a fulcrum between past and present, much like The Old Musician (Pl. 65) or the Déjeuner sur l’herbe. After 1870 Manet committed himself more fully to contemporary life and, in creating forms to suit, he left behind the world of Velasquez, Baudelaire, and Courbet. He ceased painting theater interiors and performers, and replaced them, in effect, with his café-concert pictures (Pls. 77, 78). In his final decade of work he bore out the observations of Fournel, Tuckerman, and Morford: Paris itself became his theater.
Description: The Tragic Actor (Rouvière as Hamlet) by Manet, Edouard
95. Manet, The Tragic Actor, 1865–66. 187.2 × 108.1 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of Edith Stuyvesant Gerry.
Among the impressionists it was Degas, Renoir, and Cassatt who pictured spectators in the polite world of the enclosed theater. They preferred balcony loges, although Degas also showed the audience in orchestra seats in three pictures.7 In two variants of The Ballet of “Robert le Diable” of 1872 (Metropolitan Museum) and 1876 (Victoria and Albert Museum), and in the pastel The Duet of about 1877 (formerly Robert von Hirsch). The reasons for this preference are obscure, but it may owe to the fact that the audience seated together on the main floor of opera house or theater lacked the framing effects provided by the loges. Those who rented loges set themselves off by the partial enclosure; they were on display when seated towards the front, although they could seek seclusion in the shadows when they wished (the chairs were movable). Individual loge doors opened onto corridors, where a good deal of social activity took place not only between acts, but before, after, and sometimes during performances. (In Candaules the King [Le Roi Candaule], a rollicking one-act comedy of 1873 by Halévy and Meilhac, most of the action takes place in the corridor outside the theater loges, whose doors occasionally open to reveal spectators looking out over the stage.) Because notable persons were often in the loges, they were a sideshow to the main attraction for the audience below and for tenants of other boxes. One was eager to see who was with whom, what the latest fashions were, and how those in the loges received the performance (vital clues to group reactions). To the knowing, the presence or absence of a given subscriber at a time of political crisis could be an important straw in the wind.
Views of theater boxes had been a staple of illustrators of the mid-century. Edmond Texier, wishing to characterize Parisian society of 1852, published Abel Damourette’s view of a middle-class loge juxtaposed with an opera box (Pl. 96). Everything indicates the differences between the classes. The two theaters themselves are unalike, since the opera box has interior curtains and better chairs. There the women are more fashionably dressed and coiffured, as are the men (one of whom voices a confidence or perhaps seeks an introduction). In both images, the spectators are looking in different directions, acting out the social significance of the loges, as distinct from the theatrical one. The woman to the right in the opera box engages our eye, so that we are assumed to be in another box on the same level.
Description: At the Opéra, At the Théâtre français by Damourette, Abel
96. Abel Damourette, At the Opéra and At the Théâtre français. Engravings from Edmond Texier, Tableau de Paris, 2 vols., 1852, vol. 1, p. 8.
Renoir’s Loge (Pl. 90), which was in the first impressionist show in 1874, is the first major impressionist painting of the well-known subject. Here too we are assumed to be in a nearby loge or across the way. The curving line of the balcony level (compare Pls. 101 and 98) might explain the angle at which we see the loge’s velvet railing and its partition above, but Renoir was not concerned with Degas’s spatial dynamics and merely established a perfunctory setting for his model. She was posed by a certain Nini, whose surname is unknown; her companion was modeled on the artist’s brother Edmond.
The Loge is one of Renoir’s most glorious pictures, and one of the masterpieces of Impressionism, worthy of Titian, Velasquez, and Rubens. It has their opulence of painted surface and of rich garments, the two so closely associated that we cannot separate one from the other. The woman’s extraordinary striped garment forms a lyre shape around her bosom, which is touched with flowers and surmounted by a cascade of pearls. The loge, where women were on display, was a logical choice for the artist who wanted to exhibit a beautiful model and his skill at presenting her. The man in the picture is seated to the rear, following the nearly universal custom of this tradition of representation. The woman that a man brought to the theater, whether spouse or friend, sat forward in the loge as a demonstration of his pride and social position. Here her status is confirmed by the ermine wrap which shows to the right, above her elbow. She is the kind of richly dressed woman with whom Manet could consort daily, but whom the lower-class Renoir had to invent as the embodiment of his aspirations, as though he had his nose pressed to the window of the upper-class world. Nini’s splendor derives from this longing.
In The First Outing (Pl. 97), painted two years later, Renoir returns to the theme of the theater box, but this time he presents a young woman perhaps sixteen or seventeen years old, who is not self-consciously on display. Also in contrast to The Loge, she is accompanied by a woman. There, although subordinated to Nini, the man’s assumption of the proprietary position and his use of opera glasses prove him to be a man of the world. It is against his image that we read the woman’s, aided half unconsciously by the way the black stripe flowing over her left shoulder takes the position of his right arm. In The First Outing, the companion is a less important personage, just enough of a female presence to certify the innocence of the protagonist. That the young woman is innocent seems clear, because she has no coquettish mannerisms and is unconscious of being appreciated by the viewer. The sketchily indicated figures of the crowd below and in nearby boxes—their indistinctness keeps the focus on her—seem to be engaged animatedly with one another, but she looks fixedly outward, too new at the theater to be at her ease. Her costume and that of her companion suggest a less grand place than that of The Loge, an environment closer to the ones Renoir frequented himself.
Description: The First Outing by Renoir, Pierre-Auguste
97. Renoir, The First Outing, 1875–76. 64.8 × 50.2 cm. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees, The National Gallery, London.
We can better appreciate Renoir’s image if we compare it to those of other male observers of his time, for example, that jaded conservative Hippolyte Taine, the famous philosopher. Taine’s pseudonymous memoirs8 Taine 1875.—he made sure his identity was known—begin with a scene at the Théâtre des Italiens, where the author spots a prince who is ostentatiously sporting two women in his loge, an opera dancer and an actress. Both the anecdote and its appearance at the beginning of this famous book tell us a good deal about the social significance of the theater box. Taine was one of those repressed men who took a rather prurient interest in the affairs of others. He went often to the theater to indulge his indignation—twice a week at one period, he informs us. At the Italiens he saw a young woman who, though a class above Renoir’s, reminds us of The First Outing. Taine, the good bourgeois whose book is full of estimates of money value, claims to be annoyed by the thoughtless, unproductive display of wealth she represents. His real feelings show in his obsession with her:
A charming young girl of sixteen in the third box, front. Her father and mother accompany her; sometimes the brother also, an élégant, a member of the Jockey Club…; quite regularly also, a great tall fellow… probably a husband in expectation. She is a happy child, wealthy, born in splendor…. Such a person is a rare creature in this world of enriched plebeians, ambitious workers, forever smarting under some trouble, or eaten up by covetous desires. I have been watching her five or six evenings; she refreshes and relaxes me. A very pretty toilette night before last; a waist of blue silk, close-fitting and showing her figure; rising a little in front upon the bosom; above, a soft nest of lace. Very modest and still very young, her dress is cut quite high in the neck; a simple rose in her hair…. It is clear that she is at her ease; that she does not dream of rivalries, of intrigue, of coquetry; that she has never had a thought for money…. She is here, because it is a fashionable place, because she has nothing to do, because from the box a review can be had of the gay world…. Of the one hundred and twenty francs that the box cost [i.e., seasonal rental], she has never thought a moment. She would be very much surprised if she were told that [it] would pay the room rent of one of the women who open the boxes.9 Taine 1875, pp. 158–63. I greatly abridge his six pages on this young woman, without indicating all the omitted portions. It is on page 146 that he says he went to the Italiens, his favorite theater, twice a week.
Taine was the typical bourgeois, caught between jealousy of the upper class and fear of “ambitious workers.” Renoir, unashamed of the workers, saleswomen, and models among whom he lived in Montmartre, looked upwards with a frankness that Taine lacked. As a consequence, his images of women in their loges have an honesty and directness that are their strength, that induce us to accept their sensuality as undemeaning to them. In the late twentieth century, the feminist movement has taught us to be wary of praising such associations of beauty and femininity, lest we limit women to the values men place upon them. The contrast with Taine is helpful here, since it lets us sort out Renoir’s view from that philosopher’s hypocritical mixture of attraction and censure. One can readily imagine a more incisive view of women than Renoir’s—perhaps Manet’s was that—but his guilelessness has some claims on morality.
When we turn to Mary Cassatt’s paintings of women in theater boxes, we find another kind of picture. Cassatt was younger than Renoir and developed more slowly as an artist. She made a copy of Renoir’s First Outing, and at least one of her pastels of a theater loge recalls Degas.10 The work that most resembles Degas is In the Loge, a pastel of c. 1879 (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts). Cassatt’s works on theater loges include the oil Lydia in a Loge (Philadelphia Museum of Art), the related pastel (Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum), and an oil In the Box (Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Scott, Villanova), all of 1879, and the etchings In the Opera Box of 1880 and Two Young Women in a Loge of 1882. Mention might be made also of the painting by Manet’s émule Eva Gonzales, A Loge at the Théâtre des Italiens (Musée d’Orsay), shown in the Salon of 1879.
However, by the time of her mature works at the end of the 1870s, she was very much on her own. In her initial exhibition with the impressionists, in 1879, she exhibited a painting of her sister Lydia in a theater box, the first of a whole group of works dedicated to women in loges. In 1880 she painted Woman in Black at the Opera (Pl. 98), and two years later finished Two Young Women in a Loge (Pl. 101). These two are the masterpieces of the series. Both are usually treated as variations upon earlier compositions of Renoir and Degas, and more surprisingly, as owing a great deal to Manet’s example (principally because of the color black in the Boston picture). Of course we should compare works in order to isolate each artist’s vision, but Cassatt’s two painting are no closer to Renoir than he to Degas, or Degas to Manet.
Description: In the Loge by Cassatt, Mary
98. Cassatt, Woman in Black at the Opera, c. 1879. 80 × 64.8 cm. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Charles Henry Hayden Fund.
Woman in Black presents a woman in matinee clothing, using her upward-titled opera glasses to scan other loges. Renoir’s Nini also has binoculars (Pl. 90), but because she is herself on show, she holds them in her lowered hand. Her consort uses his glasses from the vantage point of the shadows, position of discreet surveillance. In Cassatt’s picture, a boorish man in the distance leans out of his box to point his glasses in the viewer’s direction, an amusing touch that gives emphasis to the pervasive idea in this generation of spying on one’s society (the flâneurs eye!). None of the women in theater boxes by Renoir and Degas is shown using her glasses. Cassatt’s woman is the active spectator, and not merely the target of a male viewer’s gaze.11 Pollock 1980, p. 10. Her firm gesture and concentrated profile give her an air of self-containment, a no-nonsense maturity (she looks strikingly like the artist herself) which is confirmed by her plain costume. We cannot imagine the young woman of Renoir’s First Outing using opera glasses with such angular assurance.
The tiny preparatory drawing (Pl. 99) for Woman in Black reveals the strong pattern which underlies the painting. The lines of the railing capture the woman’s upper arm, and her eyes are already aimed along the edge of the upper railing. The broad front of the balcony embraces the light areas of hand and face, its upper line marked by the edge of the woman’s hair. In the oil these decisions were carried out with suitable adjustments. Cassatt formed a whole series of angular shapes which unconsciously fashion our impression of the woman as a forthright, independent person. She widened the red velvet of the railing so that it outlines both sides of the woman’s arm, she separated the hat’s strap from the collar of the dress to provide a network of parallel diagonals, and made these form a right angle with the top of the hat.
Description: Drawing for "In the Loge" by Cassatt, Mary
99. Cassatt, drawing for Woman in Black at the Opera, c. 1879. Crayon, 10.2 × 15.3 cm. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The two young women Cassatt painted in 1882 (Pl. 101) are an entirely different kind of spectator. Modeled after Mary Ellison, a visiting American, and Mallarmé’s daughter Geneviève, these twin figures, seated in the full brightness of the impressionist palette, are as much on display as the matronly beauty of Renoir’s Loge (Pl. 90). What they display, however, is not sensuous maturity, but the rigid correctness of upper-class adolescents, well schooled by their elders in polite demeanor. They had to distinguish themselves from young cocottes who would be brought here by certain men, so their stiffness is proof of their social worth. Nor do they wear jewelry (the woman in black at least wears a pearl in her ear), another sign of abnegation appropriate to their age and purity. If they seem a bit priggish compared to their contemporary in Renoir’s First Outing, it is because Cassatt makes them conscious of being on show, of offering no cause for objection by being forward in gesture, look, or manner. Renoir’s young girl is much more natural in the plainer theater she sits in, because she is innocent of any feeling of being on view as the representative of family and class.
Our reading of Cassatt’s painting is much influenced by our realization that the two girls are a class above Renoir’s ingénue (and Cassatt, a class above Renoir). We deduce that from their costume and their location. The bare-shouldered dress, after all, reveals a lot of flesh, unlike Renoir’s figure (uniformly described by historians as more sensual), but we accept it as the formal wear suitable to their station in life. We know that they are in a high-class theater from the reflection in the mirror, and further, that they sit in one of the expensive lower boxes close to the stage. The mirror is almost as curious as Manet’s in A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Pl. 80), but the reflection of one girl’s shoulder off to the right indicates that they are seated at a slant to it, and that it therefore shows the opposite side of the theater at an inward angle. The advantage to Cassatt is that the reflection first says “theater!” then, even after we locate the loge, it enframes the young women as though they were in the middle of the whole space (she used a mirror to the same effect in the 1879 picture of her sister, mentioned above).
Here we should look at another painting by Renoir to make clear the particular nature of Cassatt’s construction. At the Concert (Pl. 100), sold to a dealer in 1880, was exhibited with the impressionists in 1882. Circumstantial evidence points to its having been initially a commissioned family portrait.12 See Renoir 1985, no. 50. The head and shoulders of a man, painted out, now show through in the upper right, and the obvious way the subjects’ arms frame the sheet of music and the bouquet reveals the thin fiction of a converted portrait piece. We look into an opera loge where Renoir has a beautiful, upper-class woman adopt a pose favored earlier in the century by the great portraitist Ingres. Unlike Nini in the painting of 1874 (Pl. 90), she is seated well inside the loge and is not on public view. Her daughter (or young guest) is properly deferential.
Description: At the Concert by Renoir, Pierre-Auguste
100. Renoir, At the Concert, 1880. 99.2 × 80.6 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Cassatt could also have represented one or both or her youthful models as dutiful daughters, but instead she chose to demonstrate their coming independence. She set one off against the other to remind us of two sides of adolescence. The mirror prompts us to think that the left figure is another version of the one to the right, her shyer self. She shields herself with her fan and forms a barrier with her arms. Even her flowers are more reticent, just scumbled color notes on her fan. Her companion, despite her stiffness, is more sure of herself, more fully three-dimensional. She appears especially forthright and independent when compared with the submissive girl in Renoir’s At the Concert.
One of Cassatt’s more subtle touches is the way she positions the viewer. We are slightly below the two girls, and this puts them on a visual pedestal. They are sculptural and aloof in another sense, as well. Their twinning recalls the repeated forms of antique bas-relief, an effect augmented by the geometry and the flatness of the fan, the wrapped arms and the repeated angles of elbows, fan, and bouquet paper. These flat angles, and the way the fan’s curve is continued by one figure’s elbows and the other’s shoulder, bring about a merging of surface and illusion. Of course, within her shallow space Cassatt had to give a satisfactory sense of depth, and this she did by correlating brushwork, color, and image. From the bouquet to the fan, then to the reflected balcony, we shift towards progressively less intense color and less distinct brushstrokes.
Description: Two Young Women in a Loge by Cassatt, Mary
101. Cassatt, Two Young Women in a Loge, 1882. 80 × 64 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Chester Dale Collection.
The large fan and the geometric rhythms of Cassatt’s picture have led art historians to declare its debt to an earlier Degas, Dancer with a Bouquet, Seen from a Loge (Pl. 102), of about 1878. It is true that this composition inspired her pastel of 1879, Young Woman in a Loge Holding a Fan, but that was a piece of apprenticeship soon left behind. It seems more logical to differentiate Cassatt’s work from this Degas and from his other pastels that show spectators in opera loges. In The Loge (Pl. 60), which was discussed at the end of Chapter Two, we discovered a singular mood of aloneness which we now know is entirely foreign to the conceptions of both Cassatt and Renoir. In most of his other works on this theme, Degas places us inside the loge, looking out over the stage, a vantage point never taken by his two contemporaries.
Description: Dancer with a Bouquet by Degas, Edgar
102. Degas, Dancer with a Bouquet, Seen from a Loge, c. 1877–79. Pastel and mixed media over monotype, 40.3 × 50.5 cm. Providence, Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth.
Dancer with a Bouquet was initially a monotype which showed the stage without loge or woman in the foreground. When he reworked it with pastels, Degas added strips of paper to bottom and right sides to accommodate the loge.13 See Deborah J. Johnson, “The Discovery of a ‘Lost’ Print by Degas,” Rhode Island School of Design, Museum Notes 68 (October 1981). 28–31. This article was the first revelation of the underlying monotype. One can imagine his moving various pieces of paper about until he found the minimum that would convey what he sought: loge railing, fan, and profile. The flatness of the railing and fan, owing to their geometry as well as to their placement parallel to the surface, is a startling departure from traditional art which provided more transitions between foreground and distance. To integrate his dark loge with the brightly lit stage, despite this abruptness, Degas formed a strong diagonal connecting the woman and her fan first to the dancer taking her bow, then to the group of blue-skirted dancers, and finally to the green flat behind them. He also made a pun of the fan shape, repeated in the lead dancer’s tutu, her shoulders and bodice, and in the overall shape of the group of dancers behind her, puns which unify the whole thanks to their echoing geometry (he also has his spectator sniff the dancer’s flowers).
Other loge views by Degas are as artfully contrived, but more dynamic in their arrangements. The later At the Ballet, Woman with a Fan (Pl. 103) is all angles, compared with Dancer with a Bouquet, and much more animated. The woman’s body and her fan slant inwards at opposing angles, the edge of the loge is also at an angle, and the dancer taking her bow has none of the stability of her counterpart in the other pastel. The agitation of this scene is expressed also by the headless dancers who skitter across the upper stage. Degas could not resist his own wit, so he made more puns between stage and loge: the claw-like hand on the railing and the adjacent dancer’s hand; the spectator’s glance, steered by her nose, and the responding bend of the dancer’s head. These puns have a bit of Degas’s mockery in them as he makes society matrons confront ballet dancers. For that reason we are inclined to equate his manipulation of artistic means with manipulation of people. We should not forget, however, that Cassatt and Renoir handled their figures just as arbitrarily—but to different ends.
Description: At the Ballet, Woman with a Fan by Degas, Edgar
103. Degas, At the Ballet, Woman with a Fan, c. 1883–85. Pastel, 64 × 49 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection.
In Degas’s two pastels that we have been looking at, he has us stand or sit immediately behind a woman, so that we look beyond her partial profile to the ballet dancers. This makes us into a spectator twice over. We look at the stage, but also at another operagoer (in Degas’s day ballet was always an interlude in an opera), a complication of the viewer’s role avoided by Cassatt and Renoir. In their pictures we are the traditional “fly on the wall,” the viewer without a strong fictional presence, therefore we do not share with their figures the sight of the stage. The audience alone constitutes our spectacle. In Degas’s loge views, we cannot disregard our imaginary presence. We assume the position of a man, standing or seated behind our companion (not next to her, the place of another woman), and a wealthy man at that, for in these compositions we are invariably located in one of the select boxes overlooking the stage. Because we see so little of the woman in front of us, we cannot read into her any of the character Renoir and Cassatt gave to their figures. We see just enough to confirm her social standing: she is matronly, and appropriately dressed (an impressive blue earring in one case, an expensive gown in another). Lacking personal qualities, she is a mere feminine and class presence, a social attribute. Neither Cassatt nor Renoir would have reduced women to such fragments, even had they concerned themselves with stage performance. Renoir did not have Degas’s upper-class irony, the privileged view from the front box, and Cassatt did not have Degas’s cynicism—nor his maleness.
The Privileged View
The boxes over the stage, and those nearest to it, indeed gave the privileged view. The highest privilege of all went to the Emperor, who had perennial claim on three front boxes. He was widely reported to have had no love of opera, but felt obliged to appear frequently in this arena of social display. He would arrive with an ostentatious military escort suitable not only to his safety (he was nearly assassinated in front of the Opéra in 1858), but also to the importance his government granted to the “Imperial Academy of Music,” the official name of the Opéra. In 1861, the architect Charles Gamier was put in charge of a new opera building that was to crown the future avenue de l’Opéra. It was the most important new structure of the Second Empire, the hub of the redesigned area crossed by the grands boulevards. Vast sums were poured into it, but it was completed only under the Third Republic, in 1875. Meanwhile, the old Opéra on the nearby rue LePeletier was the beneficiary of huge government subsidies, amounting annually to 900,000 francs at the end of the Empire. Its importance can be gauged by the size of its personnel. They numbered 650, and were paid 1,700,000 francs a year.14 Figures from Edmond Renaudin in 1867, cited in Alméras 1933, p. 435.
The Emperor could not move freely backstage at the Opéra, as could other important men, but he could treat the imperial loge as the temporary quarter-deck of his power. He was not at all bashful about using his perch to scout out beautiful women, for example, and contemporaries remarked on the boldness with which he wielded his opera glasses, fixing them on a woman (usually the woman of the evening) long enough to embarrass Eugénie.15 For a sample description see Vandam 1892, vol. 2, p. 116. The Emperor’s many mistresses are discussed in Alméras 1933, pp. 116–22. Such actions confirmed his reputation as a womanizer. Like other powerful men—and partly to prove his regal power—he had quasi-public affairs, beginning with Elisabeth-Anne Haryett from England, and including “la belle Nicchia,” the comtesse de Castiglione.
There is one incident that encapsulates much of Louis Napoleon’s use of the opera loge. On 25 May 1870, he arrived during the second act of a revival of Weber’s Le Freychutz. Late arrival showed his disdain of ordinary conventions, all the more so because the paid claque interrupted the performance by standing up to cry “Vive l’Empereur!” The première of Délibe’s and Saint-Léon’s Coppélia formed the second part of the program that evening. Louis Napoleon had heard of Giuseppina Bozzacchi, a sixteen-year-old dancer about to make her debut in the new piece:
During the interval between the opera and the ballet the Emperor entered a small box, adjoining the Imperial Box and overlooking the stage from behind the curtain, and from there, unobserved, watched the stage being set for the first act of Coppélia. His intention had been made known beforehand to [Emile] Perrin, who purposely engaged Giuseppina and the Italian Ambassador in conversation in full view of the little box. The Emperor only rejoined the Empress when the order was given for the rising of the curtain.16 Guest 1974, p. 244.
We can recapture something of the view, if not the attitude, of the Emperor, thanks to Degas. In the pastels already mentioned (Pls. 102, 103) and in numerous other works, he assumed the vantage point of the Emperor and other stage-box viewers. In Dancers at the Old Opera House (Pl. 104) we look out on the stage from a box just below the Emperor’s when he was gazing upon Bozzacchi. On the other side we see the stage boxes and front loges, where white and black spots pick out men in formal wear. In L’Etoile (Pl. 105) we are in a higher loge, close to the Emperor’s private box, and have an uninterrupted view of the dancer making her salute. We also see our opposite number, the man who appears in the wings, more favored even than the stage-box tenants (but he had often descended from one of the front boxes, as we shall see shortly). In the original, his bulbous nose, moustache, and beard show clearly. Added to the impression made by his lurking half-figure, they characterize him as the predatory middle-aged male who looms so large in the opera of Degas’s day.
Description: Dancers at the Old Opera House by Degas, Edgar
104. Degas, Dancers at the Old Opera House, c. 1877. Pastel over monotype, 21.8 × 17.1 cm. Washington, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection.
Backstage at the opera was the veritable fiefdom of wealthy men, who treated the ballet dancers as a kind of game preserve. Subscribers to the principal loges had ready access to the dancers’ foyer known as the “green room” (Pl. 107), to corridors and dancers’ dressing rooms, and to the wings of the stage, even during performances. Degas represented them making free of all these places in any number of paintings, pastels and prints. In The Curtain (Pl 106), for example, one subscriber stands with seigneurial casualness, looking into the stage during preparations for a performance. He is the only figure who is nearly intact; all the others consist of fragments. Next to him a dancer darts to the right, while on the far side, half-hidden by a flat, are two subscribers, one whose arm rests on a cane, another who shows only part of a leg. Further back, where a rising curtain reveals the legs of two groups of dancers, there is another pair of male trousers off to the right. Their owner is apparently talking with the black-stockinged dancer whose feet face his.17 This work is analysed in Shackelford 1984, pp. 31–32.
This pantomime of male and female legs, typically impressionist in its apparent informality and spontaneity, is another of Degas’s wily formulations in which artistic structure supports social revelations. Dancers’ legs were the essence of their profession and also the favored sign of their sexuality. Their appearance under a rising curtain becomes a disclosure, with a hint of expectancy, if not of outright peeping. The men on the left, because they are partly hidden, seem staked out, awaiting the unveiling, while the principal man stares upstage; his hat brim coincides with the curtain’s edge to emphasize this exact moment.
The territorial rights of the male subscribers had long been recognized, and widely commented upon, without much disguise. Gavarni, Guys, and Daumier, those great illustrators of the preceding generation whom Degas especially loved, made much of these relationships, and conventional views of backstage at the opera invariably showed older men hovering closely over the dancers (Pl. 107). By the 1860s, popular stereoscopic photographs, commercially distributed on the boulevards, showed dancers and their male admirers in the green room.18 One of these is reproduced in Guest 1974, p. 17; on pp. 14–23 there is an excellent digest of the backstage privileges assumed by the men. Hippolyte Taine waxed indignant at this “market for girls,” and linked the opera with other Parisian entertainments by claiming that “the audience is made up three-fourths of mere pleasure-seekers, who come to listen to a grand dramatic poem as they would go to the café or the vaudeville.” Consistent in his hypocrisy, he blames the dancers, who have “all the gestures and little vulgar tricks of the trade. A nauseous voluptuousness to suit the customer.”19 Taine 1875, pp. 11–12. A more sensitive view was expressed by Charles de Boigne (Boigne 1857, pp. 273–74), who deplored rules that permitted the opera managers to fire pregnant dancers and deny them any pension, “a cruel and barbarian rule, under the pretext of morality.” To condemn them to poverty was to encourage the birth of sickly children. “One must accept the Opéra as it is, with its moral infirmities, its strange customs, and its more or less legitimate pregnancies, and not establish differences between the woman who is married and she who is not.” (A frequent guest of princesse Mathilde, he made no mention of her notorious liaison with comte Nieuwerkerke, the minister of fine arts; upper-class sex was not vulgar.)
Description: L'Etoile by Degas, Edgar
105. Degas, L’Etoile, c. 1878. Pastel, 60 × 44 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
Description: The Curtain by Degas, Edgar
106. Degas, The Curtain, c. 1880. Pastel over monotype, 35 × 41 cm. From the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia.
The issue had been dealt with openly by the popular guidebook author Eugène Chapus in Le Sport à Paris. It seemed appropriate in a book on sport to comment on the opera, where the eager backstagers were generally called “lions”:
Despite the measures that were destined to thin out the crowds of visitors backstage at the Opéra, one only succeeded, curious thing! in eliminating a few feuilleton writers, also some authors and composers. There is no room for professional curiosity. But, if only you are a financier, an investor wearing yellow gloves, a stockbroker, a rich foreigner, a diplomat, an embassy attaché, a man of the world in high repute; if only you have influence in powerful places; if only, again, you can fabricate for yourself a more or less real title…; if only you are something like the uncle of a dancer or her protector, the tutor of a panther or her mahout, then the portals become open to you…. Many serious men whom one thinks occupied by weighty business, many financiers whom one imagines in their clubs smoking and playing whist, many diplomats whom one believes circulating in high society… are there, in the evening, finding fantastic shelter amidst the hubbub behind the scenes of the Opera. [Pp. 242–3]
In Degas’s day, members of the prestigious Jockey Club dominated the “lions.” Money and prestige guaranteed their favor with the opera’s managers, and some of their members were on the governing board. In a famous incident in March 1861, Richard Wagner learned of their power. Ballet interludes were normally placed in the second acts of operas to allow the Jockey Club lions (like the Emperor himself!) to return at leisure from their supper beforehand, to which they often took their mistresses from the dance corps. Furious at the German composer for inserting his ballet in the first act of Tannhäuser, they whistled in unison to disrupt the performance. Eventually, when the new Opera opened in 1875, the lions lost much of their power, but in the Second Empire, about fifty members of “le Jockey” occupied seven loges and reigned over the dancers’ backstage foyer. The fifty men did not crowd into their loges on the same night, but took either Monday, Wednesday, or Friday night in regular cycle. The duc de Morny, a member of the opera board from 1855 onward, alternated with the government minister Fould and General Fleury (Morny took Fridays). Among those subscribers listed for 1865, Degas’s friend vicomte Lepic had a ground-floor loge near those of comte LeHon and the due d’Albuféra.20 These and other subscribers are listed, with loge numbers and locations, in Alméras 1933, pp. 440–41. See also Maugny 1891, p. 184.
Backstage with Halévy and Degas
It is the due de Morny who should draw our attention for a moment, since he was the patron of one of Degas’s closest friends, Ludovic Halévy. The lives of Morny and Halévy are well documented and very rewarding for the study of Degas’s own role as a backstager at the opera. The artist’s devotion to dancers at the opera cannot readily be understood unless we examine the roles of powerful men. Morny was second only to the Emperor in power and a man of great subtlety and intellect. His multifarious activities had far-reaching effects in the worlds of opera, theater, operetta, horse racing, and painting. To become acquainted with him is to learn a good deal about the interlocking domains of politics, finance, high society, and the arts. (He was also one of the creators of Deauville and will reappear in the last chapter.)
Morny was Louis Napoleon’s half-brother, the illegitimate son of the Emperor’s mother, Queen Hortense, and General de Flahaut. A key figure in the coup d’état of 1851, he was made president of the legislative body by the Emperor. His fortune came in the usual ways: sugar beets, newspapers, and real estate, and the growing railroad network. A social lion, he was a leading member of the Jockey Club (we shall also encounter him in the next chapter, when Degas’s racetrack paintings are discussed) and one of the premier hosts of Paris. His liaison with comtesse LeHon was public knowledge and enhanced, rather than diminished, the reputations of both. Morny was, in other words, a typical upstart of the Second Empire (his title was invented in 1862 by his half-brother). In his official residence he had an art gallery with an up-to-date collection consisting of important Dutch pictures (a mid-century taste) and works by established contemporaries: Delacroix, Theodore Rousseau, Ziem, Gérôme, Meissonier, Robert-Fleury, and others. The public could apply in writing to see the “musée Morny,” and the gallery was used as a reception room for guests waiting to enter Morny’s theater.21 For Morny’s life and his relations with painters, writers, and musicians, see Parturier 1969 and Kracauer 1937.
Description: Foyer de la danse, à l'Opéra by von Guérard, Eugene
107. E. Guérard, Foyer de la danse, à l’Opéra, 1843. Engraving from Edmond Texier, Tableau de Paris, 2 vols., 1852, vol. 1, p. 106.
For the duke indeed had his own theater. He prided himself on his artistic talents, wrote poetry, songs, plays, and operettas. He cultivated playwrights, musicians, and critics who knew how to add to his luster. Offenbach and Théophile Gautier labored in this high-class vineyard, and so did Degas’s intimate friend, the young Ludovic Halévy (1834-1908). He came under Morny’s wing in 1860 along with Offenbach for whom he had already written libretti. Halévy and the illustrious musician wrote music and words for a number of short pieces which Morny presented under the pseudonym “Saint-Rémy” in his own theater, in the homes of society friends, at the imperial château of Compiègne, and occasionally in public theaters, including Offenbach’s Bouffes parisiens. Halévy, already a government functionary before he met Morny, used his new connection to be named recording secretary of the legislative corps in 1861, a post he kept until about the time of Morny’s death in 1865.
Degas, a schoolmate of Halévy, may have kept abreast of all this activity, but it is only in the following decades that the two are known to have associated closely at the opera and the theater. Degas collaborated with Halévy and his partner Meilhac in writing and staging The Grasshopper (La Cigale) in 1877, a comedy that satirized impressionist painters.22 Browze 1949, p. 26. In the late 1870s or early 1880s, Degas devoted a whole series of monotypes to Halévy’s stories of opera intrigue grouped under the title La Famille Cardinal. It is not at all certain that Halévy ever sanctioned his friend’s venture—Degas’s suite was never published in their lifetimes—but the monotypes reveal a great deal about both men, and about life behind the scenes at the opera.23 For the series of monotypes see Janis 1968, checklist nos. 195–232, and Adhémar and Cachin 1974, monotypes nos. 56–82; for Halévy and Degas, see Reff 1976, pp. 182–88. Halévy recounted the beginning of the Cardinal vignettes in his notebooks (Halévy 1935, vol. 1, pp. 95–97, 116–20). He gathered them all together in 1883 as La Famille Cardinal.
Halévy’s notebook for 6 April, tells of his eavesdropping backstage at the Opera, where Mme Cardinal was talking with a cast-off lover of her daughter Virginie. From this and other observations Halévy constructed several short stories around the lower-class family whose two daughters Pauline and Virginie were ballet dancers. Mme Cardinal, one of the many mothers who watched over their adolescent daughters backstage, closely shepherded their love affairs towards the most lucrative marriages possible (hence Halévy’s ironic use of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s famous youthful innocents, Paul et Virginie). In Talking to Admirers (Pl. 108), Degas assimilated the two daughters with traditional representations of the green room, a veritable salon for the dancers and their “protectors” (Pl. 107). The dancer in the foreground appears older than the Cardinal sisters, but Degas did not attempt literal interpretations of Halévy’s texts. Her dissipated look suits her career as a mantrap. The men, equally caricatured, are balding, middle-aged connoisseurs of flesh and fame.
Description: La Famille Cardinal: Talking to Admirers by Degas, Edgar
108. Degas, La Famille Cardinal: Talking to Admirers, c. 1880–83. Monotype, dimensions unknown. From Ludovic Halévy, La Famille Cardinal, Blaizot ed., 1938, p. 77.
In Pauline and Virginie Conversing with Admirers (Pl. 109) the two sisters, who appear younger if not more innocent, are in one of the corridors of the old Opera. They are surrounded by four men identified by Halévy as himself (for he figures in the story), a senator, a secretary of a foreign embassy, and a painter. They were pressing the sisters to dine with them the next day, but the ever-vigilant mother intervened—Degas has her shadowy figure approach from the upper right—and arranged things to suit appearances while forwarding her daughters’ chances.24 Eugenia Parry Janis (Janis 1968, cat. 48) gives the relevant passages from Halévy. Her catalogue is a thorough exposition of the techniques Degas employed in producing monotypes. See also Boston 1984.
Description: La Famille Cardinal: Pauline and Virginie Conversing with Admirers by Degas, Edgar
109. Degas, La Famille Cardinal: Pauline and Virginie Conversing with Admirers, c. 1880–83. Monotype, 16 × 21 (plate). Private collection.
In both monotypes, as in others of this series (nearly forty altogether, plus an equal number of associated prints and drawings), Degas extracted a lot from a technique whose graphic nature so well suits the subject. With brush, rag, and fingers, he applied black ink to a plate, laid a sheet of paper over it, and put it through a press to produce a unique strong impression (sometimes followed by other, fainter ones). He used a brush to sketch in the dancers, the lines of railing, corridor, and walls, and a rag to form the dark masses of the men (hence the visible streaks). Before printing, he wiped away some of the ink to fix the men’s contours, most conspicuously the jagged right side of the man with his arm on the wall of the corridor, and the sloping left edges of the two men facing the central dancer in the other print. The silhouettes alone convey much of the bite of the shrewd characterizations in the corridor scene, but they have nearly as strong a role in the view of the green room, even though facial caricatures seem to control our first reaction.
It is fitting that Degas’s most sustained body of illustrations was devoted to Halévy’s La Familie Cardinal (other monotypes, pastels, and paintings fall into groups, but do not form narrative sequences). Each man was a satirist in his own realm, and each found material in the opera. It is no accident that Halévy placed his partly fictional, partly real self and “a painter” among the men paying court to the Cardinal sisters. Owing to extensive acquaintance among Opera personnel, both men were allowed to roam the corridors. Halévy’s uncle, the composer Fromenthal Halévy, had directed the chorus of the Opera, and his father Léon was a well-known playwright who moved in the same privileged circles, so the son was intimate with the Opera from an early age. Degas’s access to backstage was presumably provided by any number of friends: Halévy, the box-subscriber Lepic, the cellist and composer Pillet, the bassoonist Désiré Dihau, and several of the ballet teachers, including François Mérante. The two had many friends in common. These included Albert Boulanger-Cavé, a noted backstage dandy, the painters Gustave Moreau and Jacques-Emile Blanche, the opera singer Rose Caron, and the composer Georges Bizet, whom Degas had met when both were students in Rome, and for whom Halévy and Meilhac wrote the libretto for Carmen (produced in 1875). In 1879, Degas portrayed Cavé and Halévy standing in the wings of the Opera (Pl. 110).
Description: Ludovic Halévy and Albert Boulanger-Cavé Backstage at the Opéra by...
110. Degas, Ludovic Halévy and Albert Boulanger-Cavé Backstage at the Opéra, 1878–79. Pastel and détrempe, 79 × 55 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
Halévy’s familiarity with Opera corridors and dressing rooms is recorded in his notebooks and given witness in La Familie Cardinal. In his series, Degas represented Halévy in nine different monotypes. In formal dress and top hat, he talks with Mme Cardinal behind stage flats, in corridors, and in dressing rooms. Less distinctly rendered, Halévy watches dancers descend a staircase in two other monotypes. In Dancers Coming from the Dressing Rooms (Pl. 111), a summarily indicated Halévy—the partial figure again suggests the act of spying—stands near a gaslight while
Description: La Famille Cardinal: Dancers Coming from the Dressing Rooms by Degas, Edgar
111. Degas, La Famille Cardinal: Dancers Coming from the Dressing Rooms, c. 1880–83. Monotype, dimensions unknown. From Ludovic Halévy, La Famille Cardinal, Blaizot ed., 1938, p. 37.
fifteen or so young persons who, chatting, laughing, crying out, arguing, or shoving, descended like an avalanche…. I respectfully made room for this agreeable freshet, and the whole little company, natty, décolleté, dressed in silk and satin, tumbled nimbly down the stairs.25 Madame Cardinal (1872), cited in Adhémar and Cachin 1973, p. LV.
Degas’s intimacy with the same scenes shows not only in his suite of monotypes, but also in the large body of his paintings, pastels, and drawings. ‘Some of them have the character of Halévy’s observations, although no specific texts are known for them, nor are any needed. In Dancer in Her Dressing Room (Pl. 113), we are positioned in a corridor, looking into a dressing room. To specify our location, Degas devoted one-third of his composition to the inward-slanting door on the right, and gave the door jamb a narrow strip on the left. Like stage flats and corridor walls, these rectangular areas both reveal and conceal: partial concealment makes disclosure all the more intriguing. Here we see a star dancer whose pink tutu is being adjusted by an assistant or her mother (mothers often took on this role), crouched down behind her. To her left, only noticed upon a second glance, is the profile of a mustachioed man in formal dress, watching. In another pastel (Pl. 112), male pride of possession is more baldly revealed. The “protector” has left his chair to watch the last-minute adjustment of his dancer’s blue tutu. His cane, like the protruding musical instruments in other compositions, has a waggish masculine aspect, but his eager, crouching stare is the chief give-away of sexual absorption. Even so, Degas is quite restrained, if not subtle, compared to imitators like Jean-Louis Forain and Jean Béraud, who show dancers literally jumping into the laps of their sugar daddies, or men openly fondling dancers behind the scenes.
Description: Dancer's Dressing Room by Degas, Edgar
112. Degas, Dancer’s Dressing Room, c. 1878. Pastel, 58 × 44 cm. Private collection.
The sexual commerce that Degas disclosed in his pastels (he showed Plate 113 in the fourth impressionist exhibition in 1879) was a central fact of Parisian society. The subjection of young dancers by Jockey Club members was a raison d’etre of members’ association with the opera. They were not at all averse to their exploits being known, if appropriately screened by innuendo and limited to knowing sniggers. Baron Haussmann, for example, went out driving with his mistress, the ballet dancer Francine Cellier. She dressed like his daughter, a disguise that must have been transparent to his male cronies (as it certainly was to the ballet corps). When his wife temporarily left him, Haussmann gave up Cellier under the threat of public disclosure.26 See Guest 1974, p. 19. Halévy and Degas were discreet, of course, in their fictionalized revelations, and as long as real persons were not identified, their disclosures could be readily appreciated by the class of men they put on exhibit. Such men could more easily accept Halévy than Degas, one assumes, because of his irony and humor. Degas may possibly have made these men more uncomfortable than Halévy (this was true in conversation: his mordant wit made him feared), because his images, unmediated by humor, removed more of the veil of polite discourse that partly disguised these relationships. His sense of humor was much more biting than Halévy’s, and his irony more sardonic. Where Halévy provoked laughter, Degas brought out a disdainful smile. Where Halévy saw foibles, he saw pitiful weaknesses. We should remember, nonetheless, that his monotypes, had they been published, would have been greeted as illustrations, a more permissive category than oils or pastels exhibited as “works of art.” In those, Degas was much more circumspect.
Description: Dancer in Her Dressing Room by Degas, Edgar
113. Degas, Dancer in Her Dressing Room, c. 1880. Pastel and gouache, 60 × 43 cm. Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur.
For all their differences, both Halévy and Degas found in the corridors and dressing rooms of the Opéra a truer world than the sham one of public morality, and a more human world, because truer. Siegfried Kracauer, as brilliant on Halévy as he is on Offenbach, wrote of him in terms that could apply also to Degas:
A man with an inexhaustible sense of wonder, he strolled through life, observing the worlds of art, fashion, and politics, and his exploration of Second Empire society certainly gave him a greater knowledge of it than most of his contemporaries. He knew its shams, it realities, and its corruption, saw how the strings were pulled behind the scenes to move the marionettes hither and thither, and he succumbed to none of the current illusions himself.27 Kracauer 1937, p. 193.
Degas and Halévy seem admirable because of their penetration and the quality of their art, also because of their lack of cant compared with the men they lampooned. Still, they enjoyed some of the privileges of the lions. Unlike ordinary citizens, they could go backstage, consort with the dancers, and use them… in their art. Ironic detachment and not crude exploitation determined their actions, but they both shared the views of upper-class men. Because Mme Cardinal was a veritable procuress, and her daughters, lower-class vamps, their male pursuers were blameless.
Also like Jockey Club members, both artists looked in from the wings, and this in a metaphorical as well as in a literal sense. The ironic objectivity that they maintained gave them enough distance from their peers to act as critics, but they were no social rebels. Halévy’s case is clearer because of his voluminous writings. He thrived under Second Empire censorship because he helped provide his contemporaries with the outlets of satire and laughter through which passed the vapors of opposition. His mixture of acquiescence and opposition shows in a revealing passage from his notebooks. He was backstage at the Théâtre français in 1866, when battles were raging in Italy and Germany. While conversing with the mother of one of the actresses, he watched the Emperor roar with laughter at the play (A Man Who Pursues Women [Un monsieur qui suit les femmes]):
Mother Montaland… had made a little hole in the decor so that she could see what impression her daughter Céline made on her sovereign. While talking with this respectable woman, I admired without envying him the calmness of this man who comes to laugh at the Palais-Royal while a million and a half men by his fault, if not his will… were preparing to kill one another in Germany and Italy. While I was thinking of that, Mother Montaland, radiant, nudged my arm and said, “He is ogling Céline.” I looked, and sure enough, he was ogling Céline.28 Halévy 1935, vol. 1, p. 119.
Like Halévy, Degas unmasked the hypocrisy of his contemporaries but remained among then (until the bitter withdrawal of his later years), never thinking that his revelations should lead to changes in his society.
This combination of highly critical insights and an inactive, if not impassive social attitude, also underlies Degas’s monotypes of sexual encounters in domains outside the walls of the Opéra. He dealt more openly with sex in works not for public viewing, small monotypes, many reworked in pastel, that were known only to a few of the artist’s intimates. Nude Woman Combing her Hair (Pl. 114) shows a woman being admired by an attentive male. She has the thick body and brilliantly colored stockings that Degas gave his brothel workers, but the well-appointed if gaudy interior more logically suggests the boudoir of a kept woman. There are several such views of private boudoirs, but many monotypes, more than fifty, which represent the most elemental sexual institution, the brothel. Waiting for the Client (Pl. 115) typifies the group, for our viewpoint—a neutral one, not one that posits our psychological presence—is from within the salon, the prostitutes’ domain. The customer’s form, limited to the front edge of his black garb surmounted by a nose and beard, slides into the composition. Although essential to the business, he is usually shown by Degas in this shadowy fashion, as though he were an outsider, almost an intruder. Since he has not yet entered into the transaction, his arrival points more to the commerce involved than to sexual interplay. The insider’s vantage point, however, does not imply sympathy with the prostitutes. They are caricatures, with brutish faces and homely poses. Their bestial nature would confirm the belief of most customers that prostitutes are sexual animals, so their animality (and the payment!) relieve one of guilt.29 See Corbin 1978, and S. Hollis Clayson, “The Representation of Prostitution in France During the Early Years of the Third Republic,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1984.
Description: Nude Woman Combing her Hair by Degas, Edgar
114. Degas, Nude Woman Combing her Hair, c. 1877–79. Pastel over monotype, 21.5 × 16.1 cm (plate). Collection unknown.
Description: Waiting for the Client by Degas, Edgar
115. Degas, Waiting for the Client, c. 1879. Pastel over monotype, 16.5 × 12.1 cm. Collection unknown.
Degas’s images of brothels prove that he was aware of the whole spectrum of sexual traffic, and therefore that he himself made the parallels between backstage dalliance and commercial sex. One more image placed alongside his compositions of dancers in their dressing rooms (Pls. 112, 113) will help extend these remarks on the rendering of sexual relations in the impressionist era. Manet’s Nana of 1877 (Pl. 116) invites the comparison, since it also shows a middle-aged male watching a woman who is dressing. Its differences from Degas are as instructive as its similarities. Zola’s novel Nana had not been begun in 1877, but its protagonist, the daughter of the alcoholic laundress Gervaise, appeared the previous year in the serial publication of L’Assommoir. Manet was deliberately courting a scandal by his title, which made certain the identification of his heroine as a courtesan. When the picture was rejected by the Salon jury in 1877, Manet showed it in the window of a shop on the boulevard des Capucines. It provoked strong reactions and was a “succès de boulevard.”30 Manet 1983, no. 157. The Hamburg Kunsthalle devoted an exhibition to the picture and its iconographical antecedents, Nana: Mythos und Wirklichkeit (January-April, 1973). The top-hatted male keeps his composure, but from his chin and his outstretched leg the golden borders of the sofa reach out to embrace his prize. Some of the boulevardiers would have recognized Manet’s model, the actress Henriette Hauser, then the mistress of the Prince of Orange (hence her nickname, “Citron”—Lemon). Even had they not, the picture’s content is clear. Nana’s deshabille is complemented by the satin pillows which extend from her hips like provocative wings. She stands before a mirror as might Venus, the goddess of love, but being impure, she cannot see her reflection. She looks out at the viewer, the alert cocotte eager to be admired and always ready to consider another relationship. Like many courtesans in contemporary literature—and the picture’s rare defenders in 1877 called upon literary naturalism—she has a saucy independence and seems capable of controlling the man who supports her. To that extent she is a variant upon the notorious Olympia (Pl. 62), Manet’s courtesan of pronounced and disturbing independence, exhibited twelve years earlier. Even the size of the picture adds to Nana’s boldness. It is five feet high, compared with two feet for Degas’s dressing-room pastels.
Description: Nana by Manet, Edouard
116. Manet, Nana, 1877. 154 × 115 cm. Hamburg, Kunsthalle.
One reason that Degas’s pictures are smaller than Nana is that he had no wish to be a public performer. He would have regarded Nana as too brazen, and Manet too declamatory, too lacking in subtlety. Manet conspires with the viewer, so that we are shocked—but amused—by our presence in front of his Nana. Degas’s figures do not look out at us, they do not take us into their confidence with a wink or a bold glance. That would be incompatible with the craftiness that was his own strong suit. He hid behind his compositions which he wished viewers to accept as matter-of-fact pieces of contemporary life, all the more convincing because they seem to be chanced upon without the intercession of the artist. We prowl the corridors of the Opéra and peer into dancers’ dressing rooms with no one else standing alongside us. Like a skillful detective or a natural scientist concealed in a blind, we examine life in a stealthy fashion that spares involvement with the subject we confront.
Mothers and Daughters
Degas’s fascination with life backstage at the Opéra extended well beyond the encounters of dancers and the men who laid siege to them. Like Halévy, he frequently met mothers of the dancers, who were such a fixture of rehearsals, corridors, and dressing rooms that they are ubiquitous in nineteenth-century memoirs and histories of the opera. “Ordinarily,” wrote Charles de Boigne, “the dancer is not born on the steps of a throne, but she nonetheless always has a mother, sometimes a father.”31 Boigne 1857, p. 40. Halévy hardly exaggerated when he wrote of a dance examination in 1870 that
all around, restless, bewildered, breathless, and purple-faced, are mothers, mothers, and yet more mothers…. What serious and delicate matters there are to be considered: that the ribbons of their ballet shoes are securely tied, that their tights have no creases and are firmly fixed about the hips, that the seams are straight, the bows properly tied, and the tarlatan skirts puffed out prettily. The inspection over, the mothers energetically rub chalk on the soles of their daughters’ ballet shoes, before embracing them with the words, “Go, my child, take care of your pointes, hold your shoulders back, think of your mother, and of your father too, who will curse me and box your ears if you do not get your 800 francs today.”32 Cited in Guest 1974, pp. 12–13.
Degas represented mothers in many of the activities Halévy describes. Most frequently they are engaged in adjusting the dancers’ costumes (Pls. 119, 121) but often they are standing or seated (Pls. 120, 124), absorbed in their own thoughts, reading, or watching. Only in a few instances do mothers interact with their daughters. Of the two mothers who are prominently featured in Preparation for the Dance (Pl. 117), one stands obdurately with hands on hips, while her daughter throws her arms around her neck as though pleading. More commonly such displays of maternal involvement, where shown, are relegated to minor place. In Monsieur Perrot’s Dance Class (Pl. 128), for example, there is a mother hugging her daughter in the rear of the room.
Description: Preparation for the Dance by Degas, Edgar
117. Degas, Preparation for the Dance, c. 1877. Pastel on board, 60.9 × 95.2 cm. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries.
The reason for the mother’s presence is given by Halévy’s reference to the child’s 800 francs (not a month’s wage, but a semi-annual or annual salary for an advanced dancer). At age seven or eight the apprentices began official ballet classes, and studied long hours, without pay, for several years.33 See Guest 1974, pp. 8–14, for a summary of the origins, training and salaries of the ballet corps. They had to pass repeatedly through tests in order to be promoted, hence the crucial importance of the examinations that Degas so frequently represented. Only through periodic examinations could they reach the third quadrille, at age nine or ten, when they first received a stipend, 300 francs in the 1860s. This was an important supplement to a working family’s income, and if the child attained the rank of coryphée, her earnings of 1,500 francs would exceed that of many fathers. The time a mother spent in managing her daughter’s progress was therefore an investment, and the family could live in the hope that the daughter might become a première danseuse in her late teens, and then earn 10,000 to 20,000 francs: the same chimera that in other domains sustained “individual initiative” and entrepreneurial capitalism.
Before the survivors of examinations could reach those exalted ranks they were indeed poor, and they were fulltime child workers. Schooling ceased when they entered the ballet corps, so the dancers were often illiterate until they patched together a rudimentary education in later years. They worked long hours, morning to evening, ate cold lunches, and walked to and from their homes (most came from some distance away, Montmartre or Belleville).34 Guest 1974, pp. 8–9, cites the account of a typical day of a child dancer from Berthe Barnay, La Danse au théâtre (Paris, 1890). Small wonder, then, that they were prey to the “protectors” who offered money and presents. “I meet an urchin fourteen years old,” wrote Halévy in his notebooks of backstage observations. “She is dark as a mole and thin as a rail, but those who attend to this business and know their ropes tell me that she will be charming at eighteen. And already some wretches are bringing her pendants and earrings at twenty-five francs apiece.”35 Halévy 1935, vol. 1, p. 213.
Nearly all dancers were from the lower classes, daughters of shop clerks, meat haulers, cab drivers, or concierges. Families above these seldom sent their daughters to the state opera school because of the company they would be keeping. A proper bourgeois girl would literally be descending to the working class were she to become a ballet dancer. These divisions began to break down in the 1880s and were largely dissolved by the turn of the century, owing to the rapid alteration of class structure in Paris. The glamour of the star dancer made her envied and therefore increasingly respectable (some achieved distinguished marriages and then moved in upper-class circles).
In the 1860s and 1870s, signs of the coming breakdown of the old class lines were found in the growing number of daughters of Opéra personnel who joined the ballet. The families of staff members, orchestra musicians, and dance instructors supplied some of the young apprentices, an easier decision for them because they were themselves partly marginalized by their association with the artistic world and generally more liberated in their attitudes. Degas’s Mante Family (Pl. 118) is a case in point. Mme Mante’s husband was a bassoonist in the Opéra orchestra, and all three of their daughters entered the ballet corps at about age seven.36 Lillian Browze interviewed one daughter, Blanche, to establish the family history (Browze 1949, pp. 60–61). Degas shows the two who went on to lifetime careers in the opera (both eventually became dance instructors), Suzanne on the right, born in 1873, and Blanche, one or two years older. Mme Mante smiles slightly as she adjusts Suzanne’s hair, while Blanche, in street dress, stands alongside. Mme Mante is not at all like Degas’s other mothers, who are often virtual caricatures (Pl. 124, for example), and who exhibit in both clothing and facial features the aspect of working-class women. Although Mme Mante is soberly dressed, she has the open, refined, and intelligent look that Degas gave to middle-class women.
Description: The Mante Family by Manet, Edouard
118. Degas, The Mante Family, c. 1880. 90 × 50 cm. Collection unknown.
Degas’s composition turns on the contrast between the two sisters. Suzanne tilts to the right as she flexes her outstretched foot, and her mother turns in the same direction. Blanche overlaps her mother’s outline, but is temporarily neglected, and glances off to the left. She appears not only bored, but disconsolate.37 Jean Boggs saw in her face “an expression of all the misery of childhood” (Boggs 1962, pp. 66–67). Perhaps she is piqued at her mother’s attentions to her sister, or perhaps her own exam is over and she is merely bored while waiting to leave. Degas does not explain the situation, but lets us puzzle over a contrast that he has deliberately constructed: street clothes versus tutu, dark colors versus light, slumped versus upraised shoulders, inactive, frontal pose versus twisted stance, non-dancer versus dancer. The most obvious touch remains effective even after we have recognized its arbitrariness: the isolation of Blanche’s head against the swatch of light-colored background. We do not know whether or not Degas observed signs of rivalry between the Mante sisters. It is just as likely that his impatience with conventional portraiture led him to this slight but intriguing look into life among beginning dancers. Already at the outset of his career, in his family group The Belleli Family, he had distinguished the temperaments of his cousins’ two daughters by giving them different poses. Subsequently, in other pictures of two or more figures he often set one against another with disturbing results. (Pls. 51, 56). There is a context for these unconventional groupings in the efforts of photographers to enliven posed groups in cartes de visite, that singular vogue of the late 1850s and 1860s.38 McCauley 1985, pp. 141–72.
Suzanne Mante’s pose is repeated in Before the Rehearsal (Pl. 119), an asymmetrical and dynamic composition that makes The Mante Family seem rather deliberately posed. The repetition of the pose, however, argues for the different effects that Degas created from essentially the same process: the constant rearrangement of his repertoire of poses, like so many manikins, until they settle into new compositions. Suzanne’s counterpart, several years older, bends forward as though to examine her feet, the left firmly planted but rotated to the rear, the right stretched out like Suzanne’s. Her companion is tensing both legs also, while bending forward to adjust her tights. She can be found, with slight changes, in other drawings and pastels, alone and accompanied by dancers in entirely different positions from that of her comrade here. Crowded into the upper-right quadrant behind the two dancers are two mothers. The older adjusts the skirt of her daughter or granddaughter while the younger looks on. Neither expresses the pleasure shown by Mme Mante, since the work-a-day routine and need for careful appraisal loom larger than affection. J.-K. Huysmans, in his review of this painting in 1880, emphasized the working-class aspect of both mothers and dancers. The older woman is “any old mother,” like “a ruddy-faced old concierge,” and the younger (he calls her a “comrade” where most others have seen a young mother) is a “vulgar type” in a ludicrous hat:
Description: Before the Rehearsal by Degas, Edgar
119. Degas, Before the Rehearsal, c. 1880. 63 × 48 cm. Courtesy of the Denver Art Institute, Denver, Colorado.
What truth! What life! How all these figures hold the space, how exactly the light bathes the scene, how the expression of these physiognomies, the searching look of the mother whose hopes rise when her daughter’s body unbends, the indifference of comrades for well-known weariness, how these are etched out and noted with the perspicacity of an analyst at once cruel and subtle.39 Huysmans 1883, “L’Exposition des Indépendants en 1880,” pp. 113–14, cited in this connection (with wrong page reference) in Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 2, no. 576.
Huysmans may seem to exaggerate when he writes of boredom and fatigue in these figures, but he was assuming that his reader would have anticipated idealized, prettified dancers, and he wanted to call attention to Degas’s incisive renderings. Moreover, he was familiar with a broad spectrum of Degas’s ballet pictures which he had commented upon since 1876. Waiting (Pl. 120), for example, although slightly later, represents a large class of works that show visibly tired dancers. They sit with chin on hands, slumped over, with both hands rubbing their ankles, with head leaning against a wall, dozing, or with elbows leaning on knees. They stand with arms leaning on a chair back or with shoulders flexed and elbows thrust behind them. In Waiting the dancer nurses one ankle, but has both feet splayed outward as part of the incessant training of the body, even while seated.
Description: Waiting by Degas, Edgar
120. Degas, Waiting, c. 1882. Pastel, 48.2 × 61 cm. Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum, and Los Angeles, The Norton Simon Foundation.
That ballet meant fatigue was a truth known to insiders—journalists, Opéra personnel, former dancers—whose writings frequently remind readers of the homely truths behind the glittering stage presentations. One memoirist, writing about the opera in 1857, said that “Dancers are often compared with race horses; the advantage is entirely to the horses. At least from time to time the horses have a few moments of respite, they are let off their training. A dancer is always in training.” Horses, he wrote, look excited and eager after a race,
But the dancer! After her performance, she [is] exhausted, out of breath, nearly dead, hardly holding herself up; she blows like a steam engine; her face, painted with sticky cosmetics, has smeared and looks like a rainbow; her bosom is wet, soiled by sweat; her mouth grimaces, her eyes have a haggard look, what a sight!40 Boigne 1857, pp. 34, 33.
Degas was therefore not alone in recognizing the hard work that propped up the dancers’ performances. His uniqueness lies instead in the memorable visual forms he gave to such observations. Waiting gains its particular poignancy by the pairing of daughter and mother. To further the mood of listlessness that both figures project, Degas placed them at the top of the composition so that we unconsciously sense the possibility of their sliding downwards. The dancer’s auburn hair and aquamarine ribbon and sash are ironic notes, accents of brightness belied by her slumped posture.41 Lillian Browze (Browze 1949, p. 54) claimed that the colored sashes were Degas’s inventions, but contemporary witnesses prove their use. Ivor Guest (Guest 1974, p. 12) points out that Halévy referred in 1870 to the dancers’ colored sashes, and in Scènes de la vie de théâtre (Paris, 1880), p. 148, Abraham Dreyfus gives a typical costume de classe: “low-necked short-sleeved shirt, muslin skirt, rose stockings, well-worn satin slippers; for finery (optional): neck ribbon and blue sash….” Her mother, instead of bright tones and feathery roundness, is made up of blackness and angularity. She draws pictures on the floor with her umbrella, matching her daughter’s fatigue with her own tedium. She does not show signs of attachment or concern, but exhibits a sense of enduring, of making do.
It will seem a brusque jump to turn from this somber picture to Manet, but his Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Pl. 80) and The Plum (Pl. 75), as we saw, also require us to ponder the meaning of lassitude and detachment within settings devoted to entertainment or leisure. Manet’s Railroad (Pl. 31) is even closer to Degas’s Waiting in some regards. It does not show working-class figures, but it draws us into the peculiarities of urban encounters, when the mutual sympathy we expect is defeated by the odd detachment of the adult from the child. In the Degas, the lack of any bonds of affection between mother and daughter results from the artist’s observation that, being members of the working class, they are inured to routine. The daughter’s routine is all activity, the mother’s, all watchfulness, but Degas chose the one moment when they can share something. That this is weariness and not love is Degas’s sober lesson. Mother sits next to daughter but is detached from her, because that is the condition of modern urban life, the disquieting truth behind the masks of gaiety that parade across stages and platforms.
Dance Masters and Manikins
Waiting was done a decade after Degas had first turned to pictures of ballet rehearsals. The “cruelty” that Huysmans saw in his pictures of dancers in 1880, the artist’s emphasis upon fatigue, boredom, and the watchful attentions of male pursuers, developed only over several years of observation and work. The paintings of 1872 to about 1876 are infinitely subtle, but they concentrate more on rehearsals and dancers’ work, and on complicated spatial structures. The Rehearsal of about 1874 (Pl. 121) is a superb example of his early manner. Figures are crowded into the upper left and lower right, active versus passive figures, separated by a clear zone that demonstrates once again how the dynamics of a painting depend upon its structure not upon “subject matter.” The striking staircase (a small model of it was found in Degas’s studio after his death) has its spiral rhythm magnified by the legs which emanate from it at top, right, and center. Through the railing at the left we see four dancers, and on the other side of the stairs, in front of five figures along the wall, two russet-haired dancers aim their pirouettes to the right. Their light and elevated forms are opposed by the dancer seated on the right who turns her back to them, shawl and arms held against the chill and feet splayed out, a grouse compared to their herons. Her blue-green shawl sets off its color opposites, the strong reds of the mother’s shawl and the teacher’s shirt.
Description: The Rehearsal by Degas, Edgar
121. Degas, The Rehearsal, c. 1874. 66 × 100 cm. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries.
Description: The Rehearsal, detail by Degas, Edgar
122. Degas, detail of The Rehearsal (Pl. 121).
When Edmond de Goncourt saw this painting on a visit to Degas’s studio in 1874, he drew the artist into an explanation:
The painter shows us his pictures, supplementing his explanations from time to time by mimicking a choreographic development, by imitating, in dancers’ language, one of their arabesques. And it is really very amusing to see him up on his toes, his arms extended, mixing the esthetic of the dance master with the esthetic of the painter, speaking of the tender softness of Velasquez and of the silhouetted flatness of Mantegna.42 Goncourt 1956, vol. 10, entry for 13 February 1874. The last phrases, with the Goncourts’ emphases: “parlant du boueux tendre de Velasquez et du silhouetteux de Mantegna.”
Degas presumably mentioned Velasquez in connection with the picture’s translucent tones and irregular, softened edges, which integrate forms with the atmosphere around them, a central impressionist goal (Velasquez was also one of Manet’s and Renoir’s favorite artists). Mantegna stood for the opposite, a linear flatness which stressed shape and surface. In many ways the contrast is the essence of pictorial structure, the actual flat surface supporting the illusion of three-dimensional space. Degas’s spiral staircase is such a powerful spatial form that we cannot readily flatten it, but the dancers’ billowing tutus on the right shift more easily from cloudy substance to surface ovoid.
Looming up behind the standing dancer is the same mother found in Plate 119. She is none other than Sabine Neyt, Degas’s housekeeper, whom he identified in a drawing. She was a convenient model for the artist, a working woman who suited her fictional role. (With darker hair she also appears in Dancer’s Dressing Room, Pl. 112.) Degas felt comfortable using his housekeeper as a model, perhaps because their relationship was so familiar and so clear, employer to employee. He was partial to working people—jockeys, ballet dancers, singers, and laundresses constitute about two-thirds of his vast output—partly because they were free of bourgeois pretension. Halévy’s son Daniel more than once spoke of Degas’s admiration for ordinary people. According to his diary for 1891, Degas said that “It is among the common people that you find grace.” He commissioned walking canes from workers in the Marais district, and when he told Halévy about their workshops, he said “Everybody is lively, everybody is working. And these people have none of the servility of a merchant in his shop. Their society is delightful.”43 Daniel Halévy, My Friend Degas, trans. Mina Curtiss (Middletown, Conn., 1964), pp. 48, 53.
Beyond the figure of Degas’s housekeeper in The Rehearsal is a dance instructor, given prominence by his red shirt (Pl. 122). He is a kind of father in the curious parallel to family structure that Degas established in so many of his rehearsal scenes: fathers exact obedience while dutiful daughters work and mothers look on. In Ballet Class (Pl. 124), a dance master observes a pas de trois, while a young mother sits at her ease in the foreground. This picture was done four to six years later, and has Huysmans’s “cruelty” of observation, though it is more amusing than morose. The mother has none of Sabine Neyt’s dignity in the earlier picture. She sits in a casual way, well bundled in cheap clothing. Her face, with its puffy cheek and receding chin, is a rather malicious invention. The silhouette of the male teacher has more than a touch of caricature, also (Pl. 125). A strong highlight picks out his bald pate; his eyebrows, nose, and moustache, squeezed together, echo the snouted visage of the seated mother.
The contrast of this burlesqued teacher with the red-shirted figure in The Rehearsal reflects Degas’s increasing disillusionment with life as the 1870s wore on, but it also points out the earlier picture as a particular kind of homage. The teacher there is none other than Jules Perrot, the most famous male dancer of the middle third of the century, and subsequently a gifted choreographer. By 1874, when Degas was working on this picture, he had been retired for many years. He had last served as dance instructor in 1864. For his image, Degas took a portrait photograph (Pl. 123) of about 1861,44 First reproduced in Shackelford 1984, p. 50, and briefly discussed in Thomson 1987, p. 53. This discovery is a further proof that McCauley is correct to posit Degas’s use of carte-de-visite photographs (McCauley 1985, pp. 141–72). and copied all its major features, including the position of the hands. He reversed the relation of dark jacket to light shirt, if for no other reason than to insert the vital red.
Far from being the only homage to Perrot, The Rehearsal is one of four finished compositions devoted to him, supported by five major drawings.45 The group is discussed in Shackelford 1984, pp. 43–63. One should probably add The Dance Lesson (Lemoisne 1946–49, no. 403), whose male figure is a free variation on Perrot’s form. I draw heavily on Shackelford’s analysis in my discussion of Plates 128 and 129. For Perrot, see Guest 1974, pp. 227 and passim, and Ivor Guest, Jules Perrot, Master of the Romantic Ballet (London, 1984). It seems likely that Degas met Perrot—perhaps he sought him out—after completing The Rehearsal, and got him to pose. He made a life drawing of him and a magnificent studio drawing based on it, which he signed 1875 (Pl. 126). It is this drawing which he used for several compositions, including Monsieur Perrot’s Dance Class and The Dance Class (Pls. 128, 129). He also made a painting and a drawing of Perrot seated (Pl. 127), a sympathetic and nearly tragic figure looking older than his sixty-five years, with bandy legs spread as though to indicate his inability to dance.46 The drawing is in the collection of David Daniels, New York; the painting was sold at Christie’s, London, 3 July 1979.
Description: Jules Perrot by Bergmasco, C.
123. C. Bergamasco, Jules Perrot, c. 1861. Photograph. Mr. David Daniels.
Description: Ballet Class by Degas, Edgar
124. Degas, Ballet Class, 1878–80. 81 × 76 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Description: Ballet Class, detail by Degas, Edgar
125. Degas, detail of Ballet Class (Pl. 124).
Description: The Ballet Master, Jules Perrot by Degas, Edgar
126. Degas, The Dancer Jules Perrot, 1875. Essence on tan paper, 48 × 30 (sight). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in Memory of Frances P. McIlhenny.
Monsieur Perrot’s Dance Class began as a rather different picture. Originally there stood in Perrot’s place an unidentified teacher, seen entirely from behind, and in the foreground, instead of the dancer standing by the piano, there was another who faced forward and to the left, adjusting her slipper (x-rays clearly show the two original poses). She was the painting’s principal personage. When Degas substituted Perrot’s figure, he altered the foreground dancer so that she looks toward him, reversing the initial dominance of dancer over teacher, and reinforcing Perrot’s place as the composition’s protagonist. This homage to Perrot is also a genre scene. Simpler in its spatial order than the Glasgow Rehearsal (Pl. 121), it has a more complex assortment of dancers and mothers, twenty-two of them disposed symmetrically on three sides of Perrot. Packed on or near the raised stand at the rear are twelve dancers, each in a different pose, and five mothers. One is seated, wrapped in a shawl like Sabine Neyt’s, another stands, her arms around her daughter’s neck as though to console her. In the foreground, seated on the piano, is one of those memorable Degas forms, the dancer who scratches her back while thrusting her chin in the air. She nearly hides a dancer who holds her hand to her ear as she studies a sheet of paper. Below is a watering can used to keep the dust down47 It is tempting to connect the watering can with Marie Taglioni, who was a dance instructor through the 1860s. Ivor Guest reports that the “protector” of one of her dancers presented Taglioni with a model of a watering can engraved with the legend “Je fais naître les fleurs” (I give birth to flowers). (Guest 1974, p. 136.) and a tiny dog, presumably escaped from one of the mothers, two amusing touches that lessen the formality of the lesson.
The Dance Class (Pl. 129) is another homage to Perrot. It followed shortly upon the other picture, and is an object lesson in the ways Degas fashioned his compositions. He made minor alterations to Perrot, whose left hand now rests on the top of his cane; his shirt is a more pronounced red, and a handkerchief is stuffed into the pocket of his smock. No longer in the center of a spatial wedge, he is off to the side as though Degas wished to integrate him into a scene that would appear less contrived. To that end the floorboards oppose our ready entry and no longer zoom inwards, and the foreground dancer faces outward. There is a similar number of auxiliary figures, but differently arranged. The dancer under Perrot’s gaze continues an arabesque begun by the edge of the frontal dancer’s tutu, a movement which flattens the picture and speeds our eye into the background. Other flattening devices are found in the vertical ascension from the foreground dancer through the girl above her (whose higher elevation is not explained) to the edge of the mirror. That vertical and the angle formed with the top of the mirror are repeated in the music stand and in Perrot’s cane and arm.
Description: Jules Perrot, seated by Degas, Edgar
127. Degas, Jules Perrot, Seated, c. 1875. Black chalk and pastel, 44.5 × 29.8 cm. Mr. David Daniels.
Description: The Dance Class by Degas, Edgar
128. Degas, Monsieur Perrot’s Dance Class, c. 1875. 85 × 74 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
Description: Dance Class by Degas, Edgar
129. Degas, Dance Class, c. 1876. 83 × 76 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham.
Of course the most conspicuous alteration is the stripping away of the marble pilasters and other complications of the walls in favor of the drastically simplified planes of the second picture. Together with the lowered ceiling this has the effect of letting our eye move rapidly over the surface, another of the paradoxical combinations of easily read geometric shapes with illusions of nearly touchable depth. The contrast between the two rooms may be entirely of Degas’s invention, a manipulation of architecture no different in kind from the management of his manikin figures. Their disposition alone proves that these pictures are pure inventions, not scenes that the artist somehow copied. Furthermore, he seems never to have represented the stage nor the rehearsal rooms of the new opera building, opened in 1875, although most of his ballet compositions date after that year. Many (including Pls. 124 and 131) are known to show rooms of the old building, although it was destroyed by fire in 1873. He simply preserved drawings of the old Opéra, and used them and his memory to make up his own kind of time capsule.
Before his pictures honoring Perrot, Degas had already painted at least one teacher in action, Mérante, who instructs young dancers in The Dance Lesson of 1872 (Pl. 130), and he knew other instructors as well. The special fascination of Perrot was the contact he provided with the great era of romantic ballet. French ballet had declined precipitously after 1860, according to both contemporaries and modern historians. Although Degas followed dancers’ careers into the 1890s (he wrote their names on some drawings), he must have looked back with longing to the earlier era. Perrot was unrivaled among male dancers, partner of Marie Taglioni, lover of Carlotta Grisi, leading choreographer in St. Petersburg from 1848 to 1859, a name that Degas had grown up with. He was only three years younger than the painter’s father, who had been chiefly responsible for introducing Degas to music, and whose most moving portraits by his son show him listening to music. Perrot, in fact, is the only man of his father’s generation of whom he made repeated images. (The old dancer’s use of carved wooden canes—one shows in his photo, Pl. 123—would be an additional association: Degas had a number made for himself.)
Description: Dance Lesson by Degas, Edgar
130. Degas, The Dance Lesson, 1872. 32 × 46 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
Given Degas’s preoccupation with ballet, it is also fair to say that he identified himself with dance masters in a general sense, not just with Perrot. There were women teachers, but he seems never to have painted them. Women could be mothers in his invented world, and their daughters were the dancers, but only men could direct them. Consistent with this view, Degas eliminated male dancers, even though his surviving rehearsal notes describe boys at work.48 Cited in Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 1, p. 115. It could be argued that by Degas’s day male dancers had been virtually pushed off the stage by young women—the “protectors” had their role in this—but Degas would have developed his division of female performer and male director in any event. He avoided male performers in his café-concert pictures, and his singers are always led by the male bandleaders.
Degas’s instinctive feelings were with the ballet masters, for in his own art he directed the same young women. He arranged and rearranged them in the form of drawings, as so many manikins. He invented their rooms, in order to be as free in his patterns as a choreographer. In the solitude of his studio he manipulated his imaginary dancers, molding them to his compositions. He fulfilled the ambitions of the Parisian flâneur: “I will make move, think and act, at my will this theater of automatons whose strings I hold.”49 Fournel 1858, p. 271. Even though they are rehearsing, and not on stage, his puppets are performing for the master. They are costumed, they wear makeup, and like café singers, they are often lit from below or behind so that their faces, partly in shadow, appear to be masks.
Rehearsal (Pl. 131), exhibited with the impressionists in 1879, is one of the most arresting of these backlit compositions. Light streams in from the rear windows, as it does in the earlier Glasgow picture (Pl. 121). Here it models the dancers in reverse, and stresses the artifice involved, that is, natural light is made to seem artificial in the fiction of the picture, as it is in actuality: it is the artist himself who took the colors of his palette and made up the dancers’ masks. “Light,” that is, artists’ paint, reveals backstage truths, the hard work and ugly grimaces which cannot be seen by spectators at a performance. This is—again!—the work of a naturalist. “Oh! all the things in the world, as long as one sees them from behind!” wrote the Goncourt brothers. And their historian Enzo Caramaschi, who cited those words, qualified their art in phrases appropriate for Degas:
Description: Rehearsal by Degas, Edgar
131. Degas, Rehearsal, c. 1879. 47 × 61, New York, The Frick Collection.
These friends of truth are, besides, on another level, the friends of artifice. Their long familiarity with the things of the theater and with the society of theater professionals, their habit, as a consequence, of approaching the dramatic event from the wings and from stage tricks rather than from the side of the audience, all this must have sharpened their sensitivity to the role that illusion and artifice play in the human game.50 Caramaschi 1971, p. 41.
It is Edmond de Goncourt who, in explaining The Rehearsal (Pl. 121), said that Degas used “the esthetic of the dance master,” and in the later composition with a violinist (Pl. 131), he placed himself, and therefore the viewer, where the ballet master would stand. The old musician looks in our direction, and we are unusually close to the dancers. This closeness does not let us make contact with them, however. By subjecting them to the rules of the dance master/artist, Degas has treated them as automatons. We are so used to his images that we do not often enough realize how strange they are: his dancers, like his jockeys, never talk to one another. Voiceless marionettes, they are depersonalized representatives of their class, they are human commodities (and are treated as such by the members of the Jockey Club who wait nearby). With stylized gestures, they move in front of us, their bodies ordered into repetitive visual patterns that materialize rhythms of the dance. Mechanized, synchronized, they hover before us as though they were objects on an assembly line. Karl Marx had described the strange world of the factory, in which objects replace humans, objects that move close to the worker, then beyond him, objects that the worker could not afford to buy and from which he is therefore alienated, even though he made them. It is as though Degas sensed the mechanization of human relationships that Marx wrote about, by bringing us close to these puppet dancers, while still denying us any psychological involvement with them.
Despite this robotization, we are too close to the dancers to remain indifferent. Like spectators of the cinematic close-ups which Degas predicted, we are somehow taken up by a vision that is impersonal, but one that gives us intimate views of other beings. The result is the tension that is the mark of Degas’s most eloquent works, a tension that George Simmel writes about when he fastens on the dilemma of the modern city dweller, caught between nearness and remoteness. In Degas’s painting this is transformed into the strain between the actual flat surface, with its clearly marked out diagonals and verticals, and the illusion of a deep and dynamic space. This strain, a distinctive feature of his work of the late 1870s, was developed in remarkably short time: in the first dance rehearsals of 1872 (Pl. 130) there is little tension between surface and depth.
Because the figures in the 1879 picture are cut off on the right and along the bottom, the edge of the canvas becomes an active agent. The dancers’ raised legs are seconded by the floorboards in their powerful diagonal thrust into space. Held out tautly, the legs induce a sense of movement even though we should imagine motion as temporarily suspended. The whole composition would explode along that diagonal were it not for the plunging verticals of the windows and the implied movements of the violinist. His bow forms a controlling vertical (his music determines their rhythm), and his violin, suspended in space like their legs, forces their movement back towards the horizontal. This is another reason why Degas is so modern a century later: our era of moving pictures, of airplanes and rockets, of swarming urban masses, has come to regard movement and tension as its leading signs.
Another aspect of the odd tension that emanates from this picture stems from our closeness to the dancers. The raised leg that protrudes into the composition startles us into realizing that the rest of this woman’s body is immediately to our right. Like the dance master, we stare fixedly at the dancers’ limbs in order to judge them. “Observation is so precise,” wrote Huysmans, reviewing Degas’s pictures in 1880,
that in this series of girls, a physiologist could make a curious study of each one’s organism. Here, the miserable old man getting thinner, whose color is fading under the regime of cheap cheese and wine; there, original anemic specimens, these girls in deplorable health from sleeping in garrets, worn down by premature devotion to such work; there again, nervous, dried-up girls whose muscles show through their jerseys, veritable goats built for jumping, real dancers with springs of steel and knees of iron.
And how many among them are charming, charming because of a special beauty compounded of plebeian coarseness and of grace.51 Huysmans 1883, “L’Exposition des Indépendants en 1880,” pp. 115–16.
In the last sentence quoted, Huysmans shifts from an observational naturalism to sexuality. Far from being incompatible, the two are closely linked. Women were normally well clad in Degas’s day, so the exposure of legs—even of uncovered arms—was stimulating. Marie Taglioni had revolutionized the ballet not only by dancing on her toes, but also by popularizing the tutu, and historians have assumed that the subsequent domination of female dancers owed a lot to sexual attraction. Arnold Mortier reported that at the first rehearsal in the new opera building in December 1874 (to which the male subscribers were invited!), the orchestra complained because they could not see the dancers’ legs.52 Mortier 1875–85, vol. 1, p. 437. Dancers were especially sexy because they were lower-class women and, for many, the gamine, the early adolescent girl, had a special appeal.
Degas was an experienced artist for whom nudity was commonplace, but his attraction to gamines dancers cannot be denied. They were pervasive in his life, as this anecdote from Daniel Halévy shows:
Cavé, who lunched with us today, had recently gone to a velocipede competition to which Degas had summoned him to see two dancers from the Opéra doing stunts on tricycles. And Cavé told us how funny Degas’s attitude was towards these little creatures, and their attitude towards him. He finds them all charming, treats them as though they were his own children, makes excuses for anything they do, and laughs at everything they say. On the other hand, they absolutely venerate him and the most insignificant little “rat” would give a good deal to please Degas.53 My Friend Degas (note 43 above), p. 55, entry for 1891.
For Degas the dancer was both a real person, and the essential female of his art (about half of his entire output was devoted to ballet dancers). He much preferred her to the nudes of traditional painting for, as the embodiment of contemporaneity, she entered fully into his argument with bygone art. In one of his few statements that is confessional, if unwittingly so, he revealed the identity of naturalism and sexuality. It is a fragment of a letter that Duranty published in his famous pamphlet on Impressionism of 1876:
Isn’t it really curious? A sculptor or a painter has for a wife or a mistress a woman who is slender, light, vivacious, with turned up nose and small eyes. They love everything in this woman down to her very faults. Perhaps they went through real drama to win her. Well, this woman is the ideal of their heart and mind who aroused and set going their real taste, sensitivity, and inventiveness, because they discovered her and chose her, yet she is absolutely the opposite of the female that they persist in putting in their paintings and statues. They keep returning to Greece, to women who are somber, severe, strong as horses.54 Duranty 1876, ed. 1946, p. 29.
In another statement, this one an outrageous and offensive aphorism, he revealed his maleness: “Art is a vice; one doesn’t marry it legitimately, one rapes it!”55 Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 1, p. 119. “L’art c’est le vice, on ne l’épouse pas légitimement, on le viole!” Nothing is known of Degas’s own sexuality, aside from what can be deduced from such statements and, with unending controversy, from his art. He had adolescent dancers pose nude for him in his studio, but it seems quite likely that he kept them within the realm of his art and went to the brothel for the “hygienic outlet” that was considered normal for a middle-class professional and a bachelor.
In addition to his letter to Duranty, Degas wrote a sonnet that shows how perspicacious Huysmans was to locate the beauty of his dancers in their combination of “plebeian coarseness and of grace”:
Dance, winged urchin, on lawns made of wood.
Your thin arm, stretched along the correct line,
Equalizes, balances both your flight and your weight.
I wish you, I who know, a famous life.
Nymphs, Graces, come down from ancient crests;
Taglioni, come, princess of Arcadia,
Ennoble and shape, smiling at my choice,
This new little being, with her bold look.
If Montmartre has provided her soul and her ancestry,
Roxelane her nose and China her eyes,
In your turn, Ariel, give to this recruit
Your light daytime step, your light nighttime step,
But, to honor my known taste, let her keep her own savor
And perpetuate in golden palaces her street-bred race.56 One of eight sonnets written about 1890, reproduced in Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 1, p. 208. To be sure of Degas’s meaning, I have made a literal rather than a graceful translation.
Danse, gamin ailé, sur les gazons de bois.
Ton bras maigre, placé dans la ligne suivie
Equilibre, balance et ton vol et ton poids.
Je te veux, moi qui sais, une célèbre vie.

Nymphes, Grâces, venez des cimes d’autrefois;
Taglioni, venez, princesse d’Arcadie,
Ennoblir et former, souriant de mon choix,
Ce petit être neuf, à la mine hardie.

Si Montmartre a donné l’esprit et les aieux
Roxelane le nez et la Chine les yeux,
A ton tour, Ariel, donne à cette recrue

Tes pas légers de jour, tes pas légers de nuit…
Mais, pour mon goût connu! qu’elle sente son fruit
Et garde aux palais d’or la race de sa rue.
Surely Degas’s sonnet means that his own art would bring the tradition of nymphs and goddesses down to earth, into present-day reality. His dancers are the successors of these other-worldly beings, yet by rendering them in harsh light he showed that he did not have to place them on pedestals. In the sad fixity of the gaze of his old violinist, and in the manikin poses of his dancers, we feel the loss that Degas must have suffered in casting out so many illusions.
Society Dances
Degas’s paintings, though special to him, speak also for his generation’s veritable obsession with opera and ballet. Despite the drop in the quality of the ballet after about 1860, the opera continued until the end of the century to be the most glittering of Parisian cultural institutions. To assess its prestige, we need only recall the vast sums poured into it during the Second Empire; the opening of the new opera building in 1875, which confirmed its place as the epicenter of Haussmann’s transformed city; its use by the men of the Jockey Club, that is, by the combined political, financial, and social powers of France. Degas’s art cannot be identified with the attitudes of the leaders of society, but it certainly echoed their treatment of the opera as the nucleus of shared interests.
Among the tokens of the ballet’s role in upper-class society were its appearances outside the walls of the Opéra. Operas were occasionally produced in other theaters (especially the Théâtre lyrique and the Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin), and “Ballet-pantomimes” and various ballet “divertissements” were a regular feature in many theaters. Some society women went to costume balls dressed as ballerinas in “the shortest of gauze skirts and pure silk fleshings,” the occasion excusing a daring emulation of those young vessels of sexuality.57 Vandam 1892, vol. 2, p. 115. There were not only individual “ballerinas,” but organized amateur ballets. Prosper Mérimée recounted the performance of a ballet called “The Elements” at a masked ball given by the duchesse d’Albe, Eugénie’s sister. Sixteen society women, in ballet dress, with hair powdered in silver or gold, danced as naiads or salamanders. Among the guests were the daughter of a British lord, dressed as a nymph of the woods, and princesse Mathilde, the Emperor’s cousin, dressed as a Nubian in a costume Mérimée called “too accurate.”58 Cited in Alméras 1933, p. 253 (“beaucoup trop exacte de costume”).
For the annual costume ball sponsored by Louis Napoleon and Eugénie, it was a tradition to have society ladies appear in a quadrille “suitable for ladies not wearing ballet costumes,” such as gypsies or members of the court of Louis XVI.59 Bicknell 1895, pp. 86–87. Some of these were directed by François Mérante, the opera teacher whom Degas knew, and at one of them Anna Bicknell saw the famous Marie Taglioni looking on (“pursed up mouth and very prim appearance” was Bicknell’s comment). Another was the “bee’s quadrille,” organized in 1863 by the Emperor’s cousin of sibilant name, comtesse Stéphanie Tascher de la Pagerie, and including four other present or future princesses or countesses: “The bees made their entry in four golden hives which were carried by supers of the opera dressed as gardeners…. Then on a given signal they emerged sparkling from their golden hives and danced a ballet under the direction of Mérante.”60 Maugny 1891, pp. 47–49. If Degas heard of countess-ballerinas dressed as naiads or bees, no doubt he would have congratulated himself on his resolve to supplant classical nymphs with the urchins of Montmartre. Perhaps there is a deeper layer of irony in his sonnet than is evident at first glance. Society women, as it turns out, were not the only ones who dressed as nymphs. In the Mardi Gras parade in 1867, behind the garlanded ox (the “boeuf gras”) there rode a huge van bearing Parisians dressed as nymphs and goddesses.61 King 1868, p. 76.
The masked balls at which the society ballets were given—they may have had a role in removing the stigma from ballet dancers by the end of the era—were pervasive in Parisian society. The Emperor and Eugénie were fond of quitting the Tuileries to attend masked balls and this, according to Anna Bicknell, because they could play the game of being anonymous, even though no one was fooled. The Emperor, she wrote, “was easily recognized by his peculiar walk and attitude,” and at any party he attended, all guests were demasked and frisked before entering, and numerous detectives were about, some trying to pass as servants.62 Bicknell 1895, pp. 87–88. Eugénie once arranged a ball at her sister’s town house. A temporary banqueting hall was built in the garden,
in imitation of the great picture by Paul Veronese, “The Marriage of Cana” (in the Louvre Gallery), with most effective results. A curtain concealed the entrance till it was drawn at a given signal, when the orchestra played the march from Meyerbeer’s “Prophète,” while the guests descended the steps of a magnificent staircase on which medieval pages, dressed in the Guzman-Montijo colors, stood, holding gilt candelabra, and motionless as statues.63 Bicknell 1895, p. 69.
The due de Morny gave notable balls in his splendid official residence, and so did the principal members of the court and government. There was room for inventiveness and frivolity, but sometimes there was a special theme. The comtesse de Pourtalès once required her invitees to come as domestic servants, surely one of the more vulgar ways of asserting class consciousness. Baron Haussmann’s balls were regarded as unusually lively, and of course were not entirely free of politics. Piétri, the police prefect, regularly invited leading journalists and editors to his balls, many of them secretly on the government payroll.64 For sample descriptions of such balls, see Alméras 1933, pp. 250–55.
Masked balls and society dances were therefore important political arenas in the Second Empire. Henry Tuckerman was struck by the prominent place that these balls assumed in Paris. His chapter “A Ball at the Tuileries” is devoted to the theme that these dances became a quasi-official way of keeping the lid on dissent. “The domino reconciles many a giddy noddle to the loss of the liberty cap,” he wrote, and in the choice of guests given honored place (measured against those who were excluded), in the symbolism of the pageantry, in the encounters and the gossip, one could detect the political pattern:
If we desire to feel the public pulse in England, we attend a parliamentary debate, or have a talk at the club; and in America we read the newspapers. There is a more amusing way of doing this in Paris, and that is by going to the balls. Dancing there is a function of life, a normal phase of national development; it is what racing and boxing are in Britain, and speechifying in the United States—a safety-valve for unappropriated animal spirits, in the escape of which, when narrowly observed, we may trace the grade of the political thermometer. Balls in Paris are representative, and share the distinctions of society; the middle class, the ruling powers, and the fanatics of all ranks, may find appropriate gyrations in their respective spheres.65 Tuckerman 1867, p. 112–13.
In the first decade of the Third Republic, masked balls kept their place as key social events. President MacMahon was a dour man, but his government had learned from Louis Napoleon the political virtues of pageantry, and Tuckerman’s “appropriate gyrations” continued. The most famous of all costume balls had long been those given at the opera house, and these also thrived in the early 1870s (the pompous spaces of the new Opéra, opened in 1875, did not suit them, and they faded in popularity). The masked balls at the Opéra were held Saturday nights from December until Mardi Gras. The doors opened at midnight, and the last dance ended at five a.m. They were not like masked balls given by court or society figures, whose invitations guaranteed a select and usually decorous attendance. Anyone who could pay ten francs (the price in 1870) had the right to attend the Opéra balls, as long as they wore mask and costume or formal attire. This price and the accompanying costs of the evening kept the working class outside (a crowd always gathered to watch the maskers arrive), but middle-class people willing to save up for an unusual night joined the wealthy, who continued to dominate the crowd. It is a fragment of this crowd that Manet showed in his Masked Ball at the Opéra (Pl. 132) of 1873. He presents us with a phalanx of men, unmasked, and three masked women, all in evening dress, one male Polichinelle, and three costumed women. Study of the picture tells us more about Manet than about the masked ball, for as we shall see, he painted but one aspect of a multi-layered social institution.
During the Second Empire the Opéra balls netted the management about 10,000 francs each season,66 King 1868, p. 79. so they resisted the constant efforts to abolish or reform them. Reforms were demanded because of the Rabelaisian mood that inevitably took over the building. The Guide Joanne of 1870 warned the reader that the crowd was “boisterous not well behaved,” that a respectable woman had to be chaperoned and that even then, she had to remain in a loge. There she could look out over the throng, her only overt reason for coming (the covert one, of course, was to be seen or possibly to be met, incognito). The arena she overlooked consisted of the entire orchestra pit, floored over to form a level with the stage.
The dance floor, reserved for those in costume, was judged a wild scene by every contemporary chronicler. “Do not flatter yourself it is a stately affair,” wrote Edward King, “where grave masks dance genteelly with grotesque figures; it is a mad whirlpool, wherein all that is graceful is cast away and unlimited license of attitude takes possession of the field. It is a salmagundi of all ages, classes, and conditions; an apotheosis of embracings, of whirlings, of jumpings.”67 King 1868, p. 78. The orchestra for these revels, placed on a raised platform at the rear of the stage, was always one of considerable distinction, and acquired particular luster beginning in 1867, when it was led by Johann Strauss.
Strauss, like Offenbach, was a typical success story of the Second Empire. He was playing Viennese waltzes in a café-restaurant during the 1867 exposition when he was “discovered” by Princess von Metternich, one of the most daring society figures of the time, and then by Henri de Villemessant, the powerful owner of Le Figaro, and champion of Offenbach. With the Paris presentation of his “Blue Danube Waltz,” Strauss acquired fame to rival Offenbach’s, and he added his own compositions to the luster of the Opéra balls for the next several years:
Laughter and loud voices fill the air, the floor trembles beneath the rush of the dancers, and high over all, you hear that magic music of Johann Strauss, throbbing and thrilling with a passionate sweetness and overpowering sensuousness which more than explain the intoxication of the revellers.68 McCabe 1869, p. 742.
The corridors and lobbies of the Opéra formed a somewhat more sedate region than the dance floor during the masked ball, but were not as discreet as the loges. Around the edges were tables and chairs, and there were vendors of expensive fruits, drinks, cigarettes, flowers, fans, gloves, and masks. A woman who mingled in the crowds here, unless very closely guarded by a man, ran the danger of having her costume examined by many hands. A few society women took the risk, but most remained in the sanctuary of the loges. The women who frequented the promenades in costume were a mixture of demimondaines, actresses, dancers, and others for whom courting fashionable men could perhaps lead to money, a job, or a coveted role. Contemporaries assumed that Manet’s three costumed women were working the crowd in that manner.69 The picture was not exhibited in Manet’s lifetime, but it was commented upon by Fervacques, Mallarmé, Bazire, and Duret; see Nochlin 1983 and Manet 1983, no. 138. The latter gives the erroneous impression that there was only one masked ball at the Opéra each year.
Manet’s choice of the masked ball in 1873 had few precedents in his work. He had often represented fashionable Parisians, but the only picture that had treated a comparable aspect of urban entertainment was Music in the Tuileries of 1862 (Pl. 41). That composition showed several women and children attended by a large number of gentlemen whose top hats accentuated a similar frieze-like arrangement. Among them were men of Manet’s social set, a choice he made again in 1873. By then his charm and his fame made his studio a welcome place for an alert group of literati, collectors, artists, dandies, and other mondains, some of whom were pleased to pose for him. From Duret and other commentators, we know that he inserted at least six friends in Masked Ball at the Opéra, including the composer Chabrier (whom Degas had put in the stage box in Plate 91), who faces forward under the left pier (Pl. 133), and the banker-collector Albert Hecht, also a friend of Degas. By painting his friends, Manet made masks of them, recognizable figures in a crowd where one might have encountered effigies of President MacMahon or Gambetta: masks of notable contemporaries had long been a regular feature of these balls.70 King 1868, p. 79. Manet’s own image is second from the right edge, and he signed the picture by affixing his name to the dance card on the floor in front.
Embraced by the cluster of black costumes are three masked women, two to the right of center and one on the far right, below Manet’s erect head. These would be society women daring enough to forsake the safety of the loges to flirt with the men. The one to the right is confronting a smiling male while holding on to her mask to guarantee her incognito. The other two are being looked over by men on either side whose poses suggest inquiry into their identity. The central woman has a bouquet and an orange (this was the business of the numerous vendors), possibly gifts of her admirer who could hope to win a meeting later. Together these two central figures form a couple, but one which mocks marriage.
Such flirtations were the stuff of popular cartoons (the caricatured treatment of several of the men’s faces suggests as much) which derived principally from the work of Gavarni and Guys, two of the artistes-flâneurs whom Manet, Baudelaire, and Degas all admired. The same kind of dalliance, with and without consequences, was commonly exploited by contemporary writers. The Goncourts’ play of 1865, Henriette Maréchal, revolves around the wife of an industrialist who, bored, ventures out of her loge. She lends herself to the game of pursued and pursuer, and finally grants a meeting to the much younger Pierre. This begins an affair which ends only months later when Pierre avows his love for her daughter! The play was doubly scandalous, but Mme Maréchal’s adultery struck the bigger blow at the conventions of bourgeois life: a bit of flirtation, yes; adultery, never. The play’s notoriety put the Goncourt brothers firmly in the camp of the naturalists, and Manet’s painting, though it is no illustration of the play,71 It is treated as such in Manet 1983, no. 138, but the popularity of the Opéra balls is enough to explain Manet’s choice, and nothing in the picture is specific to the Goncourts’ text. shows his commitment to issues of contemporary life deemed important by prominent writers.
At the heart of the picture’s inner workings is the opposition of the mass of black-clad men and the bright accents of Polichinelle and the costumed women: the coolest versus the warmest, the soberest versus the most animated. The thickset horizontal of the men’s hats appears all the flatter because of the parallel sweep of the balcony overhead. Its stony plainness is broken by the legs of a woman astride the unseen railing and by the thighs and knees of another costumed woman. In the foreground, Polichinelle, the only man in masquerade, faces the serried ranks in a theatrical pose, as though he had wandered in from the dance floor, or from another painting. The other men ignore his existence, thereby preserving his function as an unreal presence, as their alter ego, the spirit of revelry which they hide under their somber dress. To the right, one costumed woman places a hand on the shoulder of a reluctant élégant, who looks away. On the other side Polichinelle calls us to witness a group of men who surround a buxom reveler in striped stockings. With folded arms she acts immune to their blandishments and unworried by the cluster of hands which conceal her bosom. The most prominent of the women stands nearby. In a saucy travesty of military dress, like some “daughter of the regiment,” she bends slightly forward towards her pleased dandy, her left hand on his starched front, her right around his waist.
Manet surely saw the “mad whirlpool” of dancing which King described, but his painting reverses King’s terms. On his canvas the masked ball is a stately affair, and there is no “unlimited license.” Manet, like the men he placed himself among, rested on his detachment, on his chic. Black was one of his favorite colors, as it was Baudelaire’s, by virtue of a plainness which spoke of lack of ostentation, yet which also asserted an upper-class elegance. Like the men whom Degas represented in his backstage views of the later 1870s, Manet’s men dressed in black to signal self-control and a knowing reserve, a public decorum all the easier to maintain because of the certainty of being masters of the women they sought or who sought them. Manet was not yet in 1873 the artist of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Pl. 80). By the time he came to that composition a decade later he had learned to question the relation of a man to a woman who served him, and to grant the woman her own detachment and reserve.
Popular Dances
The masked balls at the Opéra were at the top of a long list of public dances. Tuckerman’s claim that, in Paris, dancing was a “function of life” was based on his awareness of the vast network of dances that spread throughout Paris and its near environs. It required five pages of the Guide Joanne of 1870 to list public balls, and these were limited to the best known. Balls were held in dance halls, both specially designed and temporarily commandeered spaces, and outdoors in public squares, gardens, parks, courtyards, even in streets on special occasions. The commercialization of leisure proceeded apace after 1850, to the point that some neighborhood dances were taken over by entrepreneurs. The balls at the barrières, the old city gates, were still dominated by the working class and the military in the impressionists’ day, and they continued with only modest adulteration. Elsewhere special buildings and enclosures were remodeled or constructed to cater for tens of thousands of dancers, ranging from the ragpickers who frequented the bal du Vieux-Chêne on the rue Mouffetard, to the laundresses and market women at the Grand Salon Ragache on the rue de Sèvres, and to the artists and middle-class enthusiasts at the Casino on the rue Cadet in Montmartre.
The most famous of all these was the Bal Mabille on what is now the avenue Montaigne, close to the Champs-Elysées and not far from the Café des Ambassadeurs. It had a restaurant and covered dance floor, but the principal dancing was done outdoors. The orchestra sat under a mock Chinese pavilion, and the whole enclosure, marked by copses of trees, baskets of flowers and imitation grottoes, was lit by gas lamps in the form of palm trees whose branches supported the pulsating globes. The orchestra was considered excellent, and was regularly led by a serious musician. In the 1860s it was Olivier Métra, a gifted composer whose ballet Yedda was produced at the Opéra in 1879 (by then he was director of the orchestra at the Folies-Bergère). To keep the crowd a reasonably decorous one, the entrance fee at Mabille was high. In 1870 Joanne listed it in his guide at five francs for men on Wednesday and Saturday nights, when there were fireworks, three francs otherwise. Women could enter for only half a franc. This rather cynical policy fostered the customary Parisian sexual market: well-to-do men and lower-class women. Many respectable people and foreigners came to watch the wild dances which characterized Mabille (Pl. 134), above all, the four-person can-can, which originated here, a popular rival to a balletic pas de quatre. Long before Toulouse-Lautrec gave memorable shapes to Montmartre dancers, Mabille boasted bizarre terpsichoreans such as la Dinde, la Toquée, le Bébé, and Valentin le désossé.72 Goose, Cracked One, Baby, Valentin the boneless. Valentin, beyond his prime, reappears in Toulouse-Lautrec’s world of the 1890s. For the Bal Mabille and its dancers, see, in addition to the guide books, Gasnault 1986, passim; Alméras 1933, pp. 379–87; and for witness accounts, McCabe 1869, pp. 696–705, and Morford 1867, pp. 240–45.
Description: Masked Ball at the Opera by Manet, Edouard
132. Manet, Masked Ball at the Opéra, 1873. 60 × 73 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of Mrs. Horace Havemeyer in memory of her mother-in-law, Louisine W. Havemeyer.
Not all dances were commercialized on the same scale as Mabille. In 1876, just at the time when Mabille, victim of Parisian fickleness, had closed down, Renoir began frequenting dances at the Moulin de la Galette. Mabille, lacking a great painter, survives only in memoirs, old guide books and histories, despite its enormous importance during the third quarter of the century. The Montmartre dance that Renoir went to had no such importance, but is now the one remembered, thanks to his Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (Pl. 135). It was an old-fashioned Sunday dance, attracting mostly people in its own neighborhood, and utterly lacking in fame or chic. Montmartre, in fact, also lacked renown, which came only in the following two decades as artists and performers together helped make it a major center of entertainment. All of Montmartre deserved only three scattered mentions, totaling one page, in Baedeker’s Paris and its Environs of 1881, and only three pages in Joanne’s guide of 1885.
Renoir’s site was an enclosed courtyard next to two mills owned by the Debray family, just west of the future Sacré-Coeur (then being built). There was a third mill close by, and the profiles of the three had been a mainstay of images of Montmartre for a century or more. The Moulin de la Galette still occasionally ground iris roots for a Parisian perfumer,73 Rivière 1921, pp. 121–40, provides the best account of the site, its people, and Renoir’s painting. but was essentially a picturesque landmark. Its name derived from the pancakes once sold there. The adjacent mill, the Moulin Debray, was used only to provide, at ten centimes, a view over Paris; attached to it was the café-restaurant Debray. The dance hall was between the two, a large hangar whose green planks show in the background of Renoir’s picture.. In warm weather the dance moved out into the courtyard, which had benches and tables around the edges, shaded by spindly acacia trees. The orchestra, “ten poor devils,” according to Georges Rivière, played from an elevated platform that one sees in the rear of Renoir’s composition, under the suspended mass of gas globes (Pl. 136). The balls began at 3 o’clock Sunday afternoons, and lasted until midnight (with an hour off to feed the orchestra).
Description: Masked Ball at the Opera, detail by Manet, Edouard
133. Manet, detail of Masked Ball at the Opéra (Pl. 132).
Description: Mabille, the Spectators, and Mabille, the Spectacle by Valentin, Henri
134. Henri Valentin, Mabille, the Spectators and Mabille, the Spectacle. Engravings from Edmond Texier, Tableau de Paris, 2 vols., 1852, vol. 1, p. 8.
From Rivière’s lengthy account, we learn the identity of many of Renoir’s figures. Seated in the right corner are three close friends of the artist, Pierre Franc-Lamy and Norbert Goenette, both painters, and Rivière, a writer. The woman seated on the bench is Estelle, the younger sister of Jeanne who leans over her. Jeanne was one of Renoir’s newly found models, who appears also in The Swing (Pl. 193). Since Rivière was certain that Jeanne was sixteen, her sister must be only fourteen or fifteen. The most prominent of the women dancers is Margot, another of Renoir’s models (one of those whose surname is known: Marguérite Legrand). She dances with an acquaintance of Renoir’s, the Cuban painter Solares. Among the male dancers were several close friends of Renoir’s, named by Rivière but not individually identified: the painters Henri Gervex and Frédéric Cordey, the journalist Lhote, and Pierre Lestringuez, a government functionary. These men were each a decade younger than Renoir, only in their early twenties when the picture was done. Together they and the still younger models formed an ideal society for the artist, surely a welcome relief from the older Manet and Degas, and the aggressive Monet.
Rivière emphasized the working-class origins of the women who posed for Renoir, and who were regulars at the Sunday balls: seamstresses, florists, milliners, daughters of artisans and workers. Renoir had trouble convincing them to pose for him, since they had other jobs and feared the stigma attached to artists’ models, but he gave them little gifts, courted their mothers, and gradually coaxed them into it. For this, his most ambitious painting of Paris life to date, he was determined to have figures who belonged in the setting, not professional models. Rivière describes their lives, which involved going to work at age twelve or thirteen, living in a tiny apartment with their mother and, usually, the mother’s boyfriend. The young girls had the morals of working-class women, according to Rivière. They did not engage in prostitution (although thoroughly familiar with prostitutes and pimps, common in Montmartre), but in that harsh world they matured early, and unsanctioned pregnancies were common. Honest in the best sense of the word, they worked hard and dreamt of glamorous careers and good marriages. Meanwhile, they took solace in the Sunday dance, and impressed Rivière and Renoir with their ability to leave cares outside.
Description: Dance at the Moulin de la Galette by Renoir, Pierre-Auguste
135. Renoir, Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, 1876. 131 × 175 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
Rivière described the origins of the women in Renoir’s picture, and named the male friends, but then he gave the false impression that Renoir painted an ordinary Sunday dance of Montmartre residents. An intimate friend of the painter, it is no wonder he shared his ideal and failed to see objectively behind it. What Renoir actually represented is a group of middle-class painters and writers who came to Montmartre to admire and to dance with young working women, and to use them as models. Similarly, the models departed from their habitual partners to consort with these glamorous young men. This does not mean that it was another Bal Mabille. No wild dances here, and nothing of the canaille of Mabille, that is, nothing of it in Renoir’s painting. Rivière admitted that there were some prostitutes at the Galette, but he said they came there to dance, like the others, not to seek clients. They were excluded from Renoir’s ideal society.
Evidently there is none of the chic of Manet’s masked ball in Renoir’s composition, no wealthy older men preserving a bemused detachment as they mingle with scantily clad cocottes in the prestigious opera house. Renoir’s men and women are all under thirty and are attracted to one another without hint of detachment. Instead of Manet’s partial embraces (eager women, cool men), couples hold one another as they dance and display an inelegant, if decorous variety of pose. Instead of the touches of caricature in Manet’s painting, here all is heartfelt innocence, symbolized in the child in the lower left. No post-midnight revel, this is a daytime dance on Sunday, when Manet’s older men would be paying sabbath duty to their legitimate partners. The setting is a homely one, marked by scrawny trees, mediocre music, and furnishings of village simplicity.
Description: Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, detail by Renoir, Pierre-Auguste
136. Renoir, detail of Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (Pl. 135).
Renoir’s ideal does not admit the chic of Manet’s radically flat composition, with its lustrous black masses which receive occasional accents of color. He unifies his canvas with dark tones, but his principle is not juxtaposition, it is integration. His dark blues, purple-blues, and violets weave in and out, binding together the lighter colors. Individual poses are constructed of soft angles and curves; groups are disposed in sweeping circles and arabesques that articulate a substantial space; edges are soft, and shaggy brushstrokes form velvety surfaces; mottled sunlight dissolves and unifies, and cannot be separated from the other elements. Precedents for these outdoor effects are found in Manet’s and Monet’s picnics (Pls. 171, 178), and in his own paintings at the Grenouillère seven years earlier (Pls. 212, 215), but by 1876 he had developed a more convincing, more fully integrated plein-air technique. It is likely that his large canvas, nearly six feet wide, was done mostly in his studio, but it preserves a convincing freshness even in areas of obvious arrangement, such as the nearest dancing couple, too conveniently surrounded by the dappled ground.
The soft light, broken brushwork, and harmonious groupings that Renoir used were the perfect vehicles for his aspirations, contemporary in their savor, and yet confessions of another feature of his ideal: they look back towards his favorite century, the eighteenth. Manet and Pissarro also admired Watteau and rococo artists for their light palette, nacreous brushwork, and responsiveness to light. For Renoir, more a figure painter than they, and a painter on porcelain from age thirteen to seventeen, the art of Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard had a special appeal. First at the Grenouillère (discussed in Chapter Six), now at the Moulin de la Galette, he created islands of Cytherea and gardens of love that meant escape from the realities of Parisian life. Both in technique and in subject, his groups recall those of Watteau (Pl. 137), seated together or dancing in the open air. In this he was paradoxically contemporary, for Eugénie and her court had played at being eighteenth-century maidens, and rococo costumes were common at masked balls in the 1870s. Furthermore, the Goncourt brothers had made a specialty of eighteenth-century studies. Like Renoir, they were drawn to the social aspects of costume, dances and dining, especially as they concerned women.
Description: The Shepherds (Pastorale) by Watteau, Jean-Antoine
137. Antoine Watteau, The Shepherds (Pastorale), c. 1718–19. 56 × 81 cm. Berlin, Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten, Schloss Charlottenburg.
We cannot know to what extent Renoir was aware of the artificiality of his ideal. He made frequent references to the eighteenth century in his letters and in his later polemics against machinism (see the last section of Chapter Five), so he was conscious of his roots there. On the other hand, he certainly believed that his dance was an ordinary feature of life in Montmartre. The contrast between the actual setting (it is behind the wall in the photograph, Pl. 138) and his picture is the same that he and Rivière knew to exist between his beautiful models’ daily lives and their Sunday balls. The dance—and his painting—was a recompense, a contemporary idyll, whose unreality he hid from himself by stressing his use of Montmartre models and plein-air technique. Like Rivière, he believed that for Jeanne and Estelle “a smile and some shirt cuffs are enough to make them pretty,” and that they had a right to be “proud of their costumes whose cloth cost so little and whose sewing, nothing.”74 Phrases from Rivière’s review of the impressionist exhibition of 1877, reprinted in Venturi 1939, vol. 2, 308–14.
Renoir was confident that he was ennobling Montmartre women by placing them among his friends in this simulacrum of ideal social harmony. By shoving aside their actual penury, by making an element of charm out of homemade dresses, he revealed once again his own history, the working-class boy who was climbing out of poverty by aspiring to a life of ease and beauty: the delusion of the street waif. Our own era prefers cynicism to self-delusion, so Manet’s Masked Ball at the Opéra and Degas’s monotype of the green room (Pl. 108) have a more modern feeling. Still, we recognize that Renoir’s delusions were of one piece with his fête galante at the Moulin de la Galette, and that without, them, he could not have functioned. He would never have countenanced Degas’s constant reminders that life has bitter and ugly sides, truths that he was aware of but that he set aside deliberately in order to cultivate his illusions.
Description: Moulin de la Galette by Unknown
138. Moulin de la Galette, c. 1900. Photograph Roger Viollet.
1      Morford 1867, p. 237. »
2      McCabe 1869, p. 65. »
3      Tuckerman 1867, p. 113. »
4      The painter Piot-Normand, the composer Souquet, a “doctor Pillot,” and Gard, the Opéra’s dance director. These and other identifications were made in Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 2, no. 186. »
5      Boggs 1962, p. 29, drew the parallel, expanded upon in Reff 1976, pp. 76–80, and in Isaacson 1982. Isaacson also illustrates a number of cartoons which reduce dancers to legs being ogled by men. »
6      For the several paintings, drawings and prints of Lola de Valence and the Spanish troupe, see Manet 1983, nos. 49–53. The best recent analyses of Plates 91 and 92 have been made by Anne McCauley (McCauley 1985, pp. 173–81), who shows Manet’s use of carte-de-visite photographs in their construction. »
7      In two variants of The Ballet of “Robert le Diable” of 1872 (Metropolitan Museum) and 1876 (Victoria and Albert Museum), and in the pastel The Duet of about 1877 (formerly Robert von Hirsch). »
8      Taine 1875. »
9      Taine 1875, pp. 158–63. I greatly abridge his six pages on this young woman, without indicating all the omitted portions. It is on page 146 that he says he went to the Italiens, his favorite theater, twice a week. »
10      The work that most resembles Degas is In the Loge, a pastel of c. 1879 (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts). Cassatt’s works on theater loges include the oil Lydia in a Loge (Philadelphia Museum of Art), the related pastel (Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum), and an oil In the Box (Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Scott, Villanova), all of 1879, and the etchings In the Opera Box of 1880 and Two Young Women in a Loge of 1882. Mention might be made also of the painting by Manet’s émule Eva Gonzales, A Loge at the Théâtre des Italiens (Musée d’Orsay), shown in the Salon of 1879. »
11      Pollock 1980, p. 10. »
12      See Renoir 1985, no. 50. »
13      See Deborah J. Johnson, “The Discovery of a ‘Lost’ Print by Degas,” Rhode Island School of Design, Museum Notes 68 (October 1981). 28–31. This article was the first revelation of the underlying monotype. »
14      Figures from Edmond Renaudin in 1867, cited in Alméras 1933, p. 435. »
15      For a sample description see Vandam 1892, vol. 2, p. 116. The Emperor’s many mistresses are discussed in Alméras 1933, pp. 116–22. »
16      Guest 1974, p. 244. »
17      This work is analysed in Shackelford 1984, pp. 31–32. »
18      One of these is reproduced in Guest 1974, p. 17; on pp. 14–23 there is an excellent digest of the backstage privileges assumed by the men. »
19      Taine 1875, pp. 11–12. A more sensitive view was expressed by Charles de Boigne (Boigne 1857, pp. 273–74), who deplored rules that permitted the opera managers to fire pregnant dancers and deny them any pension, “a cruel and barbarian rule, under the pretext of morality.” To condemn them to poverty was to encourage the birth of sickly children. “One must accept the Opéra as it is, with its moral infirmities, its strange customs, and its more or less legitimate pregnancies, and not establish differences between the woman who is married and she who is not.” »
20      These and other subscribers are listed, with loge numbers and locations, in Alméras 1933, pp. 440–41. See also Maugny 1891, p. 184. »
21      For Morny’s life and his relations with painters, writers, and musicians, see Parturier 1969 and Kracauer 1937. »
22      Browze 1949, p. 26. »
23      For the series of monotypes see Janis 1968, checklist nos. 195–232, and Adhémar and Cachin 1974, monotypes nos. 56–82; for Halévy and Degas, see Reff 1976, pp. 182–88. Halévy recounted the beginning of the Cardinal vignettes in his notebooks (Halévy 1935, vol. 1, pp. 95–97, 116–20). He gathered them all together in 1883 as La Famille Cardinal»
24      Eugenia Parry Janis (Janis 1968, cat. 48) gives the relevant passages from Halévy. Her catalogue is a thorough exposition of the techniques Degas employed in producing monotypes. See also Boston 1984. »
25      Madame Cardinal (1872), cited in Adhémar and Cachin 1973, p. LV. »
26      See Guest 1974, p. 19. »
27      Kracauer 1937, p. 193. »
28      Halévy 1935, vol. 1, p. 119. »
29      See Corbin 1978, and S. Hollis Clayson, “The Representation of Prostitution in France During the Early Years of the Third Republic,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1984. »
30      Manet 1983, no. 157. The Hamburg Kunsthalle devoted an exhibition to the picture and its iconographical antecedents, Nana: Mythos und Wirklichkeit (January-April, 1973). »
31      Boigne 1857, p. 40. »
32      Cited in Guest 1974, pp. 12–13. »
33      See Guest 1974, pp. 8–14, for a summary of the origins, training and salaries of the ballet corps. »
34      Guest 1974, pp. 8–9, cites the account of a typical day of a child dancer from Berthe Barnay, La Danse au théâtre (Paris, 1890). »
35      Halévy 1935, vol. 1, p. 213. »
36      Lillian Browze interviewed one daughter, Blanche, to establish the family history (Browze 1949, pp. 60–61). »
37      Jean Boggs saw in her face “an expression of all the misery of childhood” (Boggs 1962, pp. 66–67). »
39      Huysmans 1883, “L’Exposition des Indépendants en 1880,” pp. 113–14, cited in this connection (with wrong page reference) in Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 2, no. 576. »
40      Boigne 1857, pp. 34, 33. »
41      Lillian Browze (Browze 1949, p. 54) claimed that the colored sashes were Degas’s inventions, but contemporary witnesses prove their use. Ivor Guest (Guest 1974, p. 12) points out that Halévy referred in 1870 to the dancers’ colored sashes, and in Scènes de la vie de théâtre (Paris, 1880), p. 148, Abraham Dreyfus gives a typical costume de classe: “low-necked short-sleeved shirt, muslin skirt, rose stockings, well-worn satin slippers; for finery (optional): neck ribbon and blue sash….” »
42      Goncourt 1956, vol. 10, entry for 13 February 1874. The last phrases, with the Goncourts’ emphases: “parlant du boueux tendre de Velasquez et du silhouetteux de Mantegna.” »
43      Daniel Halévy, My Friend Degas, trans. Mina Curtiss (Middletown, Conn., 1964), pp. 48, 53. »
44      First reproduced in Shackelford 1984, p. 50, and briefly discussed in Thomson 1987, p. 53. This discovery is a further proof that McCauley is correct to posit Degas’s use of carte-de-visite photographs (McCauley 1985, pp. 141–72). »
45      The group is discussed in Shackelford 1984, pp. 43–63. One should probably add The Dance Lesson (Lemoisne 1946–49, no. 403), whose male figure is a free variation on Perrot’s form. I draw heavily on Shackelford’s analysis in my discussion of Plates 128 and 129. For Perrot, see Guest 1974, pp. 227 and passim, and Ivor Guest, Jules Perrot, Master of the Romantic Ballet (London, 1984). »
46      The drawing is in the collection of David Daniels, New York; the painting was sold at Christie’s, London, 3 July 1979. »
47      It is tempting to connect the watering can with Marie Taglioni, who was a dance instructor through the 1860s. Ivor Guest reports that the “protector” of one of her dancers presented Taglioni with a model of a watering can engraved with the legend “Je fais naître les fleurs” (I give birth to flowers). (Guest 1974, p. 136.) »
48      Cited in Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 1, p. 115. »
49      Fournel 1858, p. 271. »
50      Caramaschi 1971, p. 41. »
51      Huysmans 1883, “L’Exposition des Indépendants en 1880,” pp. 115–16. »
52      Mortier 1875–85, vol. 1, p. 437. »
53      My Friend Degas (note 43 above), p. 55, entry for 1891. »
54      Duranty 1876, ed. 1946, p. 29. »
55      Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 1, p. 119. “L’art c’est le vice, on ne l’épouse pas légitimement, on le viole!” »
56      One of eight sonnets written about 1890, reproduced in Lemoisne 1946–49, vol. 1, p. 208. To be sure of Degas’s meaning, I have made a literal rather than a graceful translation.
57      Vandam 1892, vol. 2, p. 115. »
58      Cited in Alméras 1933, p. 253 (“beaucoup trop exacte de costume”). »
59      Bicknell 1895, pp. 86–87. »
60      Maugny 1891, pp. 47–49. »
61      King 1868, p. 76. »
62      Bicknell 1895, pp. 87–88. »
63      Bicknell 1895, p. 69. »
64      For sample descriptions of such balls, see Alméras 1933, pp. 250–55. »
65      Tuckerman 1867, p. 112–13. »
66      King 1868, p. 79. »
67      King 1868, p. 78. »
68      McCabe 1869, p. 742. »
69      The picture was not exhibited in Manet’s lifetime, but it was commented upon by Fervacques, Mallarmé, Bazire, and Duret; see Nochlin 1983 and Manet 1983, no. 138. The latter gives the erroneous impression that there was only one masked ball at the Opéra each year. »
70      King 1868, p. 79. »
71      It is treated as such in Manet 1983, no. 138, but the popularity of the Opéra balls is enough to explain Manet’s choice, and nothing in the picture is specific to the Goncourts’ text. »
72      Goose, Cracked One, Baby, Valentin the boneless. Valentin, beyond his prime, reappears in Toulouse-Lautrec’s world of the 1890s. For the Bal Mabille and its dancers, see, in addition to the guide books, Gasnault 1986, passim; Alméras 1933, pp. 379–87; and for witness accounts, McCabe 1869, pp. 696–705, and Morford 1867, pp. 240–45. »
73      Rivière 1921, pp. 121–40, provides the best account of the site, its people, and Renoir’s painting. »
74      Phrases from Rivière’s review of the impressionist exhibition of 1877, reprinted in Venturi 1939, vol. 2, 308–14. »
4. Theater, Opera, and Dance
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