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Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando

Photo credit: The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

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In 1879 Degas made this preparatory drawing of Miss La La, an acrobat of mixed European and African parentage. Renowned for her agility, she performed throughout Europe. This daring perspective shows La La suspended from the rafters of the circus by a rope connected to a bit between her teeth. She was a popular act at the Cirque Fernando which was close to Degas’s studio in Montmartre, Paris. In addition to her appearances in Paris she toured England, performing in London and at the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester. Rumours circulated that La La was an African princess sold into slavery so as to exoticise her and increase ticket sales. Her real name may have been Olga Kaira, born in Stettin, Germany (now Poland). Degas himself was of mixed race as he had a Creole mother, and is known to have visited his American relatives in New Orleans in 1872.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts





black chalk & pastel on paper


H 47 x W 32 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

purchased, 1936

Work type

Drawing & watercolour


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The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, West Midlands B15 2TS England

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