Edgar Degas was a painter during the nineteenth and early twentieth century who created works of art that intrigued a great many of his generation and those to follow. Interior is one such piece; surrounded as it is by mystery, it remains topic of discussion to this day. The work has many qualities and quirks that lend themselves to a seemingly irresolvable debate. The painting was kept in Degas’ private studio for 30 years before it was introduced to the public. Referred to by Degas only as “my genre painting” upon its debut, its true subject matter remains a mystery, as does the title The Rape given by critics. For years the consequent interpretations fueled the debate over Degas’ personal life, misogyny, and discussions regarding his later works of art. Some go as far as to say that Degas was pulling the Interior directly out of literary sources, while others believe that work refuses to tell a narrative at all. Yet the painting, first and foremost, illustrates that Degas was much more a man of his day than he was a misogynist.
It is necessary to take a careful look at the history of this work in order to investigate it thoroughly. By sifting through the historiography of Interior, examining the literary sources that some have claimed to have inspired the work, and carefully considering the works Degas was producing at the same time, a new understanding of the work may be achieved. It is clear that Degas was a man influenced by classical literature, but even more so the literature of his day. So much so that the Interior can be seen as his response to contemporary nineteenth-century sources, and it may also be determined that the Interior should not be used to further arguments concerning Degas’ private life.
Katie Crooks, ’04 Alta Vista, IA
Sponsor: Christina McOmber