Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty

*Café Singer (Chanteuse du café-concert)*

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas. Café Singer (Chanteuse du café-concert). 1877–78 605

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917). Café Singer (Chanteuse du café-concert). c. 1877–78. Monotype on paper. Plate: 4 3/4 × 6 3/8″ (12 × 16.2 cm), sheet: 5 1/16 × 6 9/16″ (12.9 × 16.7 cm) (irregular). Private collection

Narrator: In the monotype on the left, Degas depicts a new modern form of commercial entertainment: the café-concert, in which a singer performs in the casual setting of an outdoor café. In the work on the right, Degas shifts the scene indoors to the stage of a theater.

Usually, a monotype is printed only once.

Jodi Hauptman: But Degas—always interested in using materials in different ways, not the way they were supposed to be used—he would often run the plate through the press a second time. And that impression would be lighter because ... there was only a small amount of ink left.

Narrator: The ghost print often served as a tonal map on top of which Degas would layer pastel, creating a work that was both the same and different from the first impression. The term “cognate” is used to describe the resulting related but separate prints. By creating cognate pairs in monotype, Degas uses a medium meant to create a single print to make variations.

He experiments with how to depict the new electric light illuminating nineteenth century Paris. Hollis Clayson.

Hollis Clayson: You see something that is almost never seen in other printmaking practices of the same era -- namely, an attempt to give visual form to  the electric arc lamp.

Narrator: To hear more about how Degas incorporated electric light into his monotypes, press six-zero-five-zero, and then the search button. [ALT: To hear more…, press the play button on your keypad.]

3 / 19