The extraordinary story behind Degas’s groundbreaking painting of the biracial circus performer Miss La La
Edgar Degas’s Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (1879) is one of only two paintings by the artist representing people of colour. Miss La La, born Anna Olga Brown to a white Prussian mother and African-American emancipated slave father, was a renowned performer of extraordinary daring in fin-de-siècle Paris.
Exploring the fascinating story behind Degas’s painting, this is the first in-depth study to focus on the sitter’s identity, presenting new research on her life and career, as well as unpublished photographic material tracing her tour across Europe. The book also analyses the genesis of Degas’s work, from his rapid sketches completed on the spot to his more elaborate preparatory drawings and pastels.
The son of a Creole mother from New Orleans, Degas travelled to Louisiana in 1872–73, which was to have a lasting impact on his art. This book examines the artist’s complex attitudes to ethnicity in relation to his own family background, and the representation of multiracial people in late nineteenth-century France.
Published by National Gallery Global/Distributed by Yale University Press
National Gallery, London (June 6–September 1, 2024)
Preface: Miss La La, Black model (Denise Murrell & Isolde Pludermacher)
Degas and Miss La La: genesis of the picture and overview of the painting’s history (Anne Robbins)
Imagery of the acrobat in fin-de-siècle Paris (Chiara Di Stefano)
Degas, New Orleans and the question of ‘race’ (Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby)
Catalogue section With 6 short section introductions, followed by images of the 45 exhibited works. 1. Miss La La: Background and success (Laurie Fierstein) 2. Cirque Fernando in Paris: circus and avant-garde (Chiara Di Stefano) 3. Watching, drawing, posing Miss La La: elaboration of the painting (Anne Robbins) 4. Miss La La, 1879: from performance to exhibition (Anne Robbins) 5. Degas and ‘the Black world’ (Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby) 6. The painting’s afterlife: exhibitions, travels and influence (Christopher Riopelle)
Endmatter Chronology (Anne Robbins, Laurie Fierstein and Chiara Di Stefano) Notes Bibliography List of lenders, Acknowledgements
Anne Robbins is Curator of Painting at Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Chiara Di Stefano is Associate Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at The National Gallery, London. Laurie Fierstein is an independent scholar based in New York. Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Arts and Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley. Denise Murrell is Associate Curator of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Isolde Pludermacher is Curator of Painting at Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Christopher Riopelle is Neil Westreich Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at The National Gallery, London.
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