Degas’s Model Tells All


Best of 2017

We’re away until January 3, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2017. Enjoy your holiday!

Edgar Degas, Sulking, ca. 1870, oil on canvas.


Chrissakes, Pauline! No one would have been more horrified than Edgar Degas at the thought of a model taking up the pen. Not a fan of working-class literacy in general, he might well have died of apoplexy at the very idea that a model might dare not only to write about art but about his art. And from the very first words, we know that Alice Michel’s memoir is not going to be a typical hagiography of a great dead artist. This Degas is not the elegant gentleman, proud member of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie and scion of a well-to-do and diasporic family, with branches running banks in Naples and plantations in New Orleans. Nor is he the grand habitué of ballets, café concerts, and the opera, haunting the loges alongside his one-time friend librettist Ludovic Halévy. Not the cultivated disciple of Mallarmé who tried his hand at the occasional sonnet, not the obsessive aesthete who co-organized the exhibitions that made Impressionism an art-world phenomenon, and certainly not the purveyor of cutting, perfectly formed witticisms at exhibitions and dinner parties.