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Degas, Miss La La And The Cirque Fernando

Degas would prowl the streets of Paris searching for subject matter to capture his view of modernity.  Surprisingly, he only made one painting of the circus: Miss La La which is the subject of an exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum. 

The exhibition includes background information on the performer and circus at that time, but also a series of drawings by the Italian artist Giambattista Tiepolo, showing angels and saints rising in apotheosis. In composition Miss La La references those Italian paintings of angels. But divine agency is here rendered at once spectacular – the aerialist ascending into the heights of the circus  - and utterly prosaic:  the means of suspension is not cherubs or heavenly clouds, but a length of rope clenched between the performers teeth.

The exhibition at the Morgan devoted to this work shows Degas’ painting alongside the preparatory sketches and drafts, and background on both the performer and the circus tradition in late 19th century Paris.  In this video the exhibition curator, Linda Wolk-Simon, gives a personal tour of the painting and its context.