Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Intimacy, ca. 1877-80
Degas’ figures are usually characterised by a distancing realism, by a vein of observation whose cool intensity seems less fascinated by the body’s erotic aura than by its simple, concrete existence as an object. This gaze appears to be a negative one; a gaze whose lack of mercy corroborates claims of Degas’ misogyny.
Socio-cultural interpretations of women
Degas’ women are worn-out prostitutes, tired washerwomen, or unsightly dancers also bearing the marks of their profession. Degas’ choice of types and the manner of his presentation opens up his renditions of women to socio-cultural interpretations. They become images of social constructs, the constraints of which defines them and marks them through the lives they lead.
A socio-cultural coercion
In this monotype, however, the female figure clearly and irresistibly radiates an erotic voluptuousness that Degas’ art can also include. The picture’s masquerade-like feel, its similarity to a stage wardrobe, defines the woman in relation to the waiting man, his gaze fixing her above the subtle sign of his cane. The space itself becomes an image of anticipated union, enfolding this relationship that has been brought about by socio-cultural coercion.