Discover Degas & Miss La La ★★★★ The National Gallery | Jun 6 - Sep 1, 2024 (Free Entry)

The celebration of The National Gallery's bicentennial continues with this third show in the Discovery series. Degas' depiction of the circus performer, Miss La La, was acquired by The National Gallery in 1925. Displayed at the fourth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris the oil painting attracted little attention there, remaining in Degas' studio for the next 25 years. This exceptional exhibition focuses not only on the work, but also on its subject. Divided into three sections, the first gallery of the show explores the personal and professional life of Anna Albertine Olga Brown, the mixed-race acrobat, who in her time was possibly more celebrated than Degas himself. The second gallery concentrates on the Cirque Fernando where Miss La La was a star act, and it prepares the viewer for the imaginative display of Degas' masterpiece. When we enter the final gallery, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (1879) commands the viewer's attention, and we raise our eyes in awe at the performer's prowess and at Degas' brilliant representation of her breathtaking act. This concluding chapter of the show is divided into three sections: Watching, Posing, Drawing Miss La La, Degas and the "Black World" and The Painting's Afterlife. First, we see an intriguing selection of studies that Degas made for his finished work. Then, we are offered a fascinating look at Degas' visit to the family of his Creole maternal grandfather in New Orleans, and finally we are treated to works by Duncan Grant, Walter Sickert and others who were inspired by the circus or by Degas' painting. This is a show that provides an engrossing insight into the creative process, while also sensitively contemplating the racial and social realities of the artist's and his inspiration's world. Here's a splendid opportunity to discover Degas and Miss La La!

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879 © The National Gallery, London

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