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Sketches of Café Singers
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Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas
French, about 1877
Graphite
9 3/4 x 13 in.
95.GD.35.7

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Edgar Degas experimented by showing the robust curves of café singers from various angles. On the left, a popular singer named Mademoiselle Dumay reaches down to an invisible audience, while a cluster of gaslights surrounds her head like a halo. In the center, the stout body of a singer is seen from behind. Single lines suggest her wide chest and broad hips and the curling ringlets in her hair. A deliberately cruel caricature fills the right side of the sheet. Hair lifted into a rounded cone, she leans forward, gesturing with her hands. The rounded curves of her back and bustle echo the upward sweep of her hair.

Degas was fascinated by the play of light over forms and generally chose to show the figures in his works under artificial rather than natural light. The glowing globes behind the head of Mademoiselle Dumay emphasize the whiteness of her face and her dark hair. Degas smudged the charcoal around her breasts and arms to suggest darker areas of shadow. He also used lines of parallel hatching around the singer to give the impression of greater depth to her body. The artist used this single figure as the basis for a pastel drawing, Mlle Dumay, Chanteuse.