Cafe Concert: The Song of the Dog, 1875 by Edgar Degas

IN THOSE PICTURES which Degas made from the night cafes in the Champs Elysees, he seems to have been struck by the vigorous vulgarity of the performers. Unlike the charm with which he rendered his first ballet dancers, these works are sharply satirical. As Mrs. Havemeyer, who bought the picture from Degas, wrote, "There is nothing elegant about this woman's pose. Her hands suggest the movement of a dog (from a popular song of the period) and the gesture is done as only Degas could do it with a flash of drawing. The lines of the mouth, as she bawls forth the vulgar song, her exultant exaggeration, showing she is conscious of her power over her audience, all this and much more . . . show clearly what the cafe-chantant is, what part it plays in Parisian life, the kind of creature that furnishes the amusement, and, although you cannot see them distinctly, you know the class of pleasure seekers who can be entertained by such a performance."

Here Degas has superbly rendered the effect of night atmosphere with its dark green background against which plays the tawny hair of the singer. He placed the profile strongly against a yellow pillar which cuts the composition, and contrasted the face, lighted drastically by footlights, with a repeated pattern of electric globes - devices which show that by this time he was absorbing the patterns of Japanese art. It is interesting to note that he has twice enlarged the picture by adding strips of paper to the right and working over them. Painted chiefly in gouache, the colors have been strengthened and the forms accented by strokes of pastel on top of the gouache.