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Arts in China

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Ana Hunter
Critical Analysis http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Paris-and-the-Impressionists-5873 Herbert can tell immediately that the women in Degas’s little picture Woman on a Cafe Terrace, Evening, 1877, in the Musée d’Orsay, are prostitutes on the Boulevard Montparnasse, available to the crowd of male passersby in the background. Herbert conjectures that there is some sort of commerce between the woman who rises from her seat in the foreground and the silhouetted form of a man moving out of the picture to the right; the implied connection between them, he suggests, is echoed by the visual tension between the two figures, who move in opposite directions. He calls our attention to how frequently Degas depicted “the male pursuer” as a dark, partial presence, which makes us look again at the peripheral figures in other cafe and ballet scenes. Herbert comments: “Of course, we cannot insist on a knowing exchange between Degas’s two figures, but the presence of a male passer-by is an essential element of this pastel. Degas makes us into an investigator, seated on that terrace, sizing up various clues in order to understand what is going on around us . . . .”
Herbert can tell immediately that the women in Degas’s little picture Woman on a Cafe Terrace, Evening, 1877, in the Musée d’Orsay, are prostitutes on the Boulevard Montparnasse, available to the crowd of male passersby in the background. Herbert conjectures that there is some sort of commerce between the woman who rises from her seat in the foreground and the silhouetted form of a man moving out of the picture to the right; the implied connection between them, he suggests, is echoed by the visual tension between the two figures, who move in opposite directions. He calls our attention to how frequently Degas depicted “the male pursuer” as a dark, partial presence, which makes us look again at the...

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