Mlle Malo, 1877 by Edgar Degas

DEGAS DID SEVERAL PAINTINGS of this same woman, perhaps a Mile. Malo, an unimportant dancer of the Paris Opera. Compared to his earlier portraits where line and thinner color were stressed, this is unusually broad in its handling and rich in its resonant tone. The harmony of browns, blacks, and greens is relieved by the gold and silvery white of the flowers which seem a legacy from Oriental screen painting. They form an unusual burst of light behind the sitter's head but Degas has modeled the face so strongly that they do not compete with the portrait quality of the canvas but merely add to the effect. The features are interpreted with sympathy by the artist; one feels that Degas painted her not for her conventional beauty but because he found her interesting. Withal there is a certain mobility which gives the portrait that peculiar sense of life which Degas always stressed. Fascination, distinction - these are the qualities which the painter found in the personality before him. Though he returned to the same subject at least twice again, this is the most successful of the series.