Women in Front of a Cafe, 1877 by Edgar Degas

DEGAS LOVED THE EVENING HOUR in Montmartre. As strong sunlight hurt his eyes he enjoyed wandering round Paris at night, picking up impressions, fixing indelibly on the plate of his memory certain scenes which he later developed with remarkable distinction in his studio. His method here was to start with the indications of the main forms of his picture painted on a metal plate. From this he took an impression on paper, building up the color and sense of detail in strokes of pastel.

This daring and angular composition with the pillars of the cafe sharplv cutting the scene suggests the Impressionist search for sudden, fresh views of daily life. No one before Degas would have interrupted a figure with a vertical pillar stretching the entire height of the picture. No one else would have played so subtle a rhythm of curves, in the chairs, in the costumes, against these severe forms, or have studied the light of the interior as contrasted to the blurred, streaked night scene behind. As usual the poses and gestures are caught with a sharp eye; observe the woman with her fingernail held against her teeth in the center and the woman at the right leaning back and out of the frame. The color, with its muted harmonies and sudden sharp touches, helps to convey the evening mood. In addition Degas stressed the character of the moment; seldom sympathetic, except in portraits of his own class, he portrayed these women of the demi-monde as somewhat ridiculous in their finery, managing to suggest a faintly sinister quality about the entire scene.