The J. Paul Getty Museum

Miss Lala at the Fernando Circus

Object Details


Miss Lala at the Fernando Circus


Edgar Degas (French, 1834 - 1917)






Pastel on faded blue paper

Object Number:



46.4 × 29.8 cm (18 1/4 × 11 3/4 in.)

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Object Description

Edgar Degas was fascinated by the modern city and its places of entertainment, notably the opera house, the racetrack, and the circus. In these venues, he sought out unusual perspectives and extremes of movement: the subject of this drawing offered him both.

The Cirque Fernando opened its doors in 1875 in the Pigalle neighborhood, a hotspot for Parisian nightlife and progressive art. Degas lived nearby, as did Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Georges Seurat, all of whom painted pictures of the Cirque Fernando. It was there that Degas watched a famous aerialist known as “Miss La La” in January 1879. Born Olga Brown in 1858 in what is today Poland, this biracial performer toured France and England under a variety of stage names (the Venus of the Tropics, the African Princess) calculated to appeal to European notions of “exotic” beauty. She was a virtuoso performer. Her act included various feats of strength and agility, but its climax involved being hoisted high in the air by means of a pulley, a rope, and a specially fitted dental device. This is the feat Degas portrayed here.

He was so captivated by Miss La La’s performance that he returned night after night to sketch her, producing a series of life studies that culminated in an oil painting, shown at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition later that year. Each of the studies is inscribed with the date when Degas made it (in this case, January 21, 1879), probably working in black pastel from his seat at the circus and then adding other colors once back in his studio. With its dramatic perspective, glowing palette, and only vague suggestion of Miss La La’s suspension device, this drawing conveys a sense of the soaring, splendid, hands-free effect she achieved in her performances.


Edgar Degas (L.657, L.658, L.658bis), French, 1834 - 1917 [sold, Degas estate sale, Paris, April 7, 1919, no. 44a to Jules Strauss]

1919 - 1924
by 1924

M. Knoedler & Co. (New York), founded 1846, dissolved 2011

May 4, 1960

Sotheby's (London) [sold, Gilbert Kahn sale, Sotheby's, London, May 4, 1960, lot 185.]

Degas (March to April 1937)
  • Musée de l'Orangerie (Paris), March to April 1937
Degas: Peintre du Mouvement (June 9 to June 30, 1939)
  • Galerie André Weil (Paris), June 9 to June 30, 1939
Art in the Making: Degas (November 10, 2004 to January 30, 2005) (p. 85, p. 86 [ill.])
  • The National Gallery (London), November 10, 2004 to January 30, 2005
Degas at the Getty (March 7 to June 11, 2006)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 7 to June 11, 2006
Defining Modernity: European Drawings, 1800-1900 (June 5 to September 9, 2007)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), June 5 to September 9, 2007
Recent Acquisitions in Context (December 16, 2008 to March 8, 2009)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), December 16, 2008 to March 8, 2009
Degas's Miss Lala au Cirque Fernando (February 15 to May 12, 2013)
  • The Morgan Library & Museum (New York), February 15 to May 12, 2013
Degas: Russian Dancers and the Art of Pastel (May 19 to October 11, 2015)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), May 19 to October 11, 2015
Posing Modernity: The Black Muse from Manet to Matisse and Beyond / Le Modèle noir, de Géricault à Matisse (October 24, 2018 to July 21, 2019)
  • Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University (New York), October 24, 2018 to February 10, 2019
Education Resources
Education Resources

Education Resource




What Can Art Tell Us about Ourselves?

Lesson in which students compare vocations in 19th-century French artworks with those they might encounter in 21st-century Los Angeles.

Visual Arts; English–Language Arts; History–Social Science


Three/Five-Part Lesson