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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando

Key facts
Full title Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando
Artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
Artist dates 1834 - 1917
Date made 1879
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 117.2 × 77.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1925
Inventory number NG4121
Location Sunley Room
Collection Main Collection
Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

The Cirque Fernando was built in 1875 near the Place Pigalle in Paris, close to where Degas lived. He saw Miss La La perform there several times. Born Anna Albertine Olga Brown (1858-1945), she was a mixed-race circus performer famous for her feats of strength. Olga is especially known as the inventor of the ‘Iron Jaw’ act, where she holds herself up by clenching a leather mouthpiece between her teeth.

In the painting, she is seen during one of her famous Iron Jaw performances. She is suspended from the ceiling as she is hoisted up to the roof by a rope. In one of her other acts she even carried a firing cannon, while dangling upside down from a trapeze. Degas places us among the audience, looking up at the spectacle above.

Painting an acrobat allowed Degas to combine his interest in modern life with his fascination for complicated poses. He made several preparatory studies for Miss La La’s portrait, paying particular attention to the complex construction of the roof, which covers most of the canvas. After it was finished, the painting was shown at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1879.

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