You know him best for his pastel ballerinas,
faces washed in garish light, taking bows,
tieing laces, stretching, or simply resting
against a wall or a piano.
He liked catching women off guard, in the private
actions of daily living – washing up, stepping into a bain,
combing their hair, trying on a hat, pressing clothes,
or waiting idly.
It was said he was incapable of loving women
and once was overheard to say: “In general women are ugly.”
His nudes were stripped of any sensuality
or titillation, unlike those of Renoir’s
(who boasted he painted them with his “maleness.”)
For Degas, his brush was quite sufficient.
His nudes were simply women without cloths,
plain, homely, unadorned like the back streets of Paris.
Yet they fascinated him most of all in their separate parts:
a back, a rump, a leg, an arm – and always in some
awkward, unwomanly, almost mannish manner that
suggested exerted or strained effort.
And then, artfully, he cropped and cut away
all unnecessary space until they were trapped,
motionless, confined to one action (the one he wanted),
until he had reduced, isolated, singled out
their humanity to that one part of them.
Finally, he brought them up close to him – and us –
flat against the painting’s surface, like a man whose
desire can only rise up in his eyes, as if they were
unaware that he – you and I – was looking in
on them secretly through a keyhole.
Copyright © Maurice Rigoler