barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

MISS LALA AT THE CIRQUE FERNANDO

France, 1879

Black chalk with touches of pastel

470 x 320 mm

 

In 1879 Degas made this preparatory drawing of Miss LaLa, an acrobat of mixed European and African parentage.

Renowned for her agility, she performed throughout Europe. This daring perspective shows LaLa suspended from the rafters of the circus by a rope connected to a bit between her teeth. She was a popular act at the Cirque Fernando which was close to Degas’s studio in Montmartre. In addition to her appearances in Paris she toured England, performing in London and at the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester. Rumours circulated that LaLa was an African princess sold into slavery so as to exoticise her and increase ticket sales. Her real name may have been Olga Kaira, born in Stettin, Germany (now Poland). Degas himself was of mixed race as he had a Creole mother, and visited his American relatives in New Orleans in the 1872.

Purchased 1936 (No. 36.7)

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