Opera Boxes

Edgar Degasabout 1877

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

Seemingly absorbed in the opera below, a woman holding opera glasses gazes down from her box while a man kisses her shoulder. In an adjacent box, men enviously observe the performance beside them, rather than the one below. Although Edgar Degas drew each figure quickly, focusing on their facial expressions and gestures, he easily captured the various emotions of lust, jealousy, and boredom that fill the scene. He drew the couple on the left with close attention to particulars, detailing the man's dinner jacket and the woman's ruffled top, her beaded necklace, and the buttons on her gloves. In contrast, the six men in the box beyond appear as a varied crowd of heads, with only the barest suggestion of their shoulders. One of Degas's contemporaries once described him as "an artist of rare intelligence, preoccupied with ideas, which seemed strange to the majority of his fellows. Taking advantage of the fact that there was no method or transition in his brain, which was active and always boiling over, they called him the inventor of social chiaroscuro."

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