What Is The Meaning Of The Star, By Edgar Degas?

What Is The Meaning Of The Star, By Edgar Degas?

Written by:

Date Post – Updated:

At first glance, many of Edgar Degas’ paintings appear straightforward, merely capturing scenes we recognize—a ballerina on stage or dancers in motion. However, upon deeper scrutiny, it becomes evident that Degas intricately weaves social commentary into the fabric of his art, reflecting the era in which he lived.

For instance, in his painting “A Star,” by Edgar Degas, we witness a ballerina in her full splendor, yet lurking in the backdrop is her patron, observing and, perhaps, exerting a form of control over her. Read on as we delve deeper into what these subtleties could signify.

Table of Contents

Unveiling Layers Of Meaning: Edgar Degas’s “The Star” (L’Étoile) 1878

L’Étoile (The Star) (1878) By Edgar Degas
L’Étoile (The Star) (1878) By Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas’s pastel painting, “The Star” (L’Étoile), executed between 1879 and 1881, presents a complex visual narrative teeming with contrasts, symbolism, and emotion. At first glance, the prima ballerina appears ethereal, bathed in radiant light.

But a closer look reveals the presence of a shadowy figure lurking behind the curtain—a patron symbolizing the oppressive realities of the period. Read on as we delve deeper into this enigmatic artwork.

The Exquisite Centerpiece: The Star

The image of the ballerina is meticulously detailed, from the flowers on her dress to the crown atop her head, a zenith of grace and elegance. This moment of sweet triumph is depicted with such emotional richness that one can almost hear the applause and feel her exhilaration.

The posture, the closed eyes, and the bending of her head back create a moment suspended in time where the dancer, in her element, is indeed the star—radiant, flawless, and at the pinnacle of her art.

The character is Rosita Mauri, a Spanish dancer who rose to prominence in Paris in the late 1870s. Known for her unparalleled dancing skills and warm personality, Mauri was a muse for several artists, including Degas. He portrayed her as a true star, embodying the collective admiration of an era.

The Dark Side Of The Curtain

However, lurking behind her brilliance is a stark reality—a male patron standing behind the curtain. The dark, almost sinister nature of his presence and the frenzied strokes used to depict the curtain contrast sharply with the ethereal beauty of the ballerina.

This man symbolizes the control and exploitation that were often the unspoken conditions of a female performer’s life during the late 19th century. Many such dancers were, in fact, prostitutes, their lives bound to the will of their male patrons.

You can read more about what the life of a ballerina like Rosita Mauri would have been like during the time of Degas in our section below about the Dark Side of the Curtain.

Symbolism And Social Context Of The Star

Degas captures the dualities of his time: light and shadow, freedom and control, art and exploitation. The painting is a microcosm of the industrial age, characterized by progress and dehumanization.

The late 19th-century Industrial Revolution led to a dystopian underbelly where women, among others, were often marginalized and exploited. The painting evokes a sense of impending doom as the Modernist era, with its existential anxieties, begins to take root.

Degas was a part of the Impressionist movement, yet his works often stand apart due to their focus on realism and psychological depth. While Impressionism primarily focused on capturing light and color, Degas explored the nuances of human emotion and societal norms. “

The Star” encapsulates the uncertainty and pessimism that colored the perceptions of many artists and intellectuals during the Turn of the Century. The age was caught in gloom, a suspicion that a new millennium could usher in technological marvels and ethical and social upheaval.

The Legacy Of “The Star” – Rosita Mauri

Degas’s portrayal of Rosita Mauri in “The Star” transcends its historical context to offer timeless insight into the human condition. The painting speaks to anyone who has ever felt the dichotomy of public success and private strife, of radiant moments shadowed by hidden complexities.

It continues to inspire art lovers and social historians alike. While Degas celebrated Mauri’s incredible talent, he also layered the painting with intricate details that open up conversations about societal norms, gender roles, and the exploitation that often lies hidden behind glamour and success.

Behind The Glitter: The Lives Of Young Ballerinas In Edgar Degas’s Time

Edgar Degas’s infatuation with the ballet world of 19th-century Paris is well-documented through his prolific output of paintings and sculptures, capturing the dancers’ elegance, poise, and discipline.

Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas

However, beneath the surface of these exquisitely rendered works lies a darker narrative that encapsulates the harsh realities of the time—exploitation, patronage, and the grim financial circumstances facing young ballerinas like Marie. In Degas’s body of work, the paradox of beauty and exploitation is interwoven delicately, providing us with an alluring yet cautionary tale about the human condition.

The Reality Behind Ballet During Degas Life

In the late 19th century, many young girls entered the ballet world not merely out of love for the art form but as a means to financial security. Often emerging from humble backgrounds, their families frequently encouraged these dancers to embrace ballet to attract wealthy patrons.

These young dancers were often condescendingly referred to as “les petits rats,” a term that lays bare society’s perception of them—small, vulnerable, yet opportunistic creatures seeking crumbs from the tables of the wealthy.

The Patronage System

Many of the ballet was funded by wealthy businessmen and aristocrats, a nexus of power and privilege that maintained the institution. In return for their financial support, these patrons received exclusive access to the backstage and rehearsals and even went on to sponsor particular ballerinas.

These relationships were not purely altruistic; many patrons had ulterior motives, and the ballerinas were often expected to provide sexual favors in return for financial security.

Degas’s Observational Lens

Degas was not a patron himself but acted as an observant chronicler, keenly capturing this complex dynamic in his art. His works featuring rehearsals subtly include men in black suits and hats lounging at the periphery, watching young ballerinas with predatory intent.

Degas neither romanticized this relationship nor explicitly condemned it; he merely presented it as a memorable part of the fabric of his contemporary ballet world.

The Duality In Degas’s Ballet Works

While his ballet paintings are among the most highly valued and are showcased in prestigious museums worldwide, they are also fraught with intricate social dynamics. Degas’s works compel us to look beyond the immediate visual splendor and confront the complex emotional and social realities that framed the lives of these young dancers.

The Ballerina – Growing Up Too Soon

The world these young ballerinas navigated was far from child-friendly. The rigorous training and performances were physically taxing, and the patronage system forced them into adult complexities and moral difficulties at a very young age.

Their life was a balancing act, much like their performances—graceful and seemingly effortless on stage but fraught with difficulty and ethical compromise off it.

Why “The Star” Shines Bright Yet Dark

In works like “The Star,” this duality becomes particularly poignant. At first glance, the painting is a celebration of the ballerina’s skill and the beauty of ballet.

A deeper look, however, reveals more unsettling details—the lurking patron behind the curtains, the almost frantic urgency in the background—reminding us of the harsh reality that awaits these young artists once the performance ends.

Degas’s ballet paintings, mainly works like “The Star,” serve as nuanced commentaries on the complexities of 19th-century Parisian society. They offer a window into young dancers’ extraordinary skill and dedication while subtly revealing the exploitation and moral dilemmas woven into their everyday lives.

The paintings mirror the contradictions and complexities that still characterize human society—making Degas not just a painter of beautiful scenes but also a keen social critic whose relevance continues.

“The Star” by Edgar Degas is an intricate tapestry of artistic brilliance and poignant social commentary. It tells the story of a luminous moment onstage but does not shy away from the stark realities that await behind the curtain.

The ballerina, exquisite in her grace, is both a symbol of artistic perfection and a representation of the vulnerable individuals caught in the complex social web of the late 19th century.

The duality of light and shadow, freedom and oppression, encapsulates the contradictions that marked the era and continue to resonate today. Degas’s painting thus serves as both a snapshot of a time long past and a timeless reflection on the complexities of fame, art, and social expectations—a true masterpiece of emotional and intellectual depth.

Listen To Our Podcast About Unveiling The Star: Deciphering Edgar Degas’ Artistry Below or By clicking here.

Unveiling The Star: Deciphering Edgar Degas' Artistry

Anita Louise Art is dedicated to art education, great artists, and inspiring others to find and create their art. We love art that uplifts and inspires. #ArtToMakeYouSmile! #ArtToMakeYouHappy!

If you are interested to see any of my art, you can find out more by clicking here. If you are interested in what inspires me and my paintings, you can discover more by clicking here.

We have a free newsletter and would love you to be part of our community; you can subscribe to the newsletter by clicking here. I would be happy to talk to you if you have any questions. You can reach me, Anita, by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Anita Louise Art YouTube Channel with great videos and information by clicking here.

Join us for our podcast 5 Minutes With Art.” Spend just 5 minutes a week with us to discover and learn about great art and artists. You can find out more about our podcast by clicking here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the painting “A Star” by Edgar Degas about?

“A Star” by Edgar Degas depicts a ballerina on stage, but there’s more to the painting than meets the eye. Explore the hidden meanings behind the seemingly simple scene.

Who is the central figure in “A Star,” and what does she represent?

Uncover the identity and significance of the ballerina at the heart of the painting and how she symbolizes more than just a dancer in performance.

What role does the patron play in the painting?

Discover the subtle presence of the patron in the background and analyze the potential power dynamics at play between the ballerina and her observer.

How does Edgar Degas use symbolism in “A Star”?

Explore the symbolic elements within the painting, from the choice of setting to the details of the ballerina’s attire, and understand the deeper messages conveyed by Degas.

What social commentary is embedded in the painting?

Delve into the social context of Degas’ time and unravel the commentary he weaves into “A Star,” shedding light on issues such as power, control, and societal expectations.

Is there a specific historical context that influences the interpretation of the painting?

Examine the historical backdrop against which Degas created “A Star” and how the prevalent attitudes and norms of the time contribute to the painting’s significance.

Why did Degas choose the subject of ballet for this painting?

Understand the recurring theme of ballet in Degas’ body of work and explore the reasons behind his fascination with this art form and its cultural implications.

What techniques did Degas employ in creating “A Star”?

Analyze the artistic techniques, brushstrokes, and composition choices made by Degas in the creation of “A Star” and their impact on the overall narrative.

How does “A Star” fit into the broader context of Degas’ oeuvre?

Place “A Star” within the context of Degas’ other works, examining similarities, differences, and recurring themes to gain a comprehensive understanding of his artistic vision.

What are the various interpretations of “A Star” by art critics and scholars?

Explore the diverse perspectives and analyses provided by art experts regarding “A Star,” shedding light on the range of interpretations that exist for this intriguing work by Edgar Degas.

Why Paintings Like Rothko’s No. 6 (Violet, Green, & Red) Are Expensive

Mark Rothko’s No 6 (Violet, Green, and Red – 1951) was sold in 2014 for 140,000.000 Euro or over 184,000,000 USD. A vast amount for any painting. Many of Mark Rothko’s paintings continue to fetch record numbers at auction houses worldwide.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Why Paintings Like Rothko’s No. 6 (Violet, Green, & Red) Are Expensive.

What Makes Mark Rothko’s Paintings So Valuable?

Mark Rothko’s paintings have been valuable for many years; they are in high demand and continue to fetch record prices around the globe. At first glance, the paintings may look simple, but upon closer look, they are very complex; they are meant to evoke our emotions and transport us to another realm.

By clicking here, you can discover more by reading What Makes Mark Rothko’s Paintings So Valuable?.

Why Are Mark Rothko’s Paintings Considered Special?

Mark Rothko’s paintings are remarkable because they are original works of art. He is one of the founders of the abstract expressionism movement and color field painting. But more than that, he believed that his spirit lives within the art and that we, the individuals, can view his art can be taken to a different realm.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading Why Are Mark Rothko’s Paintings Considered Special?.

Anita Louise Hummel
Follow Me

Share Our Blog