Edgar Degas’ Madonna/Whore

Edgar Degas (1834-1917, French) chose an unusual palette for this portrait of a woman he knew.

 

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As if to jolt us into straining ourselves a little to observe closely this woman: someone who is not posing, nor pirouetting nor drawing attention to herself in any way:  relaxed, comfortable, amused, somewhat knowing, indulgent, affectionate.  The wife of a friend or acquaintance.

 

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Madame Camus, oil on canvas, 1869/70, and detail.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

And there is this.

This is not the conjugal bedroom.  This is her room and he visits her whenever he wants to. 

He has slapped her around because he has found evidence of her interest in another man:  a gift of a small open valise full of lovelies including the corsette he has thrown to the ground.

 

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Interior, 1869/70, oil on canvas, and detail. Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

He has claimed the whole room as his own.

He came into the room, threw his own coat and scarf onto her bed, strode to the other side of the room to lay down his top hat.  Slapped her around and now is barring the door with a very hostile stance.

A woman he believes he owns.  Degas, a famously difficult man, was quite unimpressed, apparently, with the pathos of this scene because all he thought up as a title was ‘Interior’.

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