Sketches of Café Singers
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Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas
French, about 1877


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In the 1800s, when people depended on gaslight to light their homes, many artists put down their brushes at dusk and spent the late afternoon and evening in the many cafés around Paris. They gathered around the marble-topped tables to discuss ideas with their friends or to watch the singers who arrived to entertain them. One evening Edgar Degas quickly sketched the café singer Theresa singing La Chanson du Chien (The Song of the Dog), a catchy little tune in which she imitated a dog as part of her act.

Caught in full song, Theresa lifts her gloved hands to imitate the forlorn begging of a dog. Degas's quick pencil lines capture the fleshy width of her arms and chest, the ruffled edge of her low-cut gown, and her simple, upswept hair. With her open mouth and tilted head, she almost seems to be howling. A grotesque caricature in the upper right corner gives a crueler impression of the singer, with a gaping, toothy mouth, wrinkled eyes, and protruding nose.