Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Jean-Louis Forain (France, 1852–1931)
The Dressing Room (La Loge), c. 1890
Pastel and gouache on paper
18 7/8 x 11 ¾ in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
Known widely for his quick wit, Jean-Louis Forain excelled at satire and produced illustrations for notable journals such as Le Figaro and Le Courrier Français. He moved in both artistic and literary circles with close friends such as painter Edgar Degas, poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, and writer Joris-Karl Huysmans. Degas influenced Forain’s artistic work considerably and arranged for the latter’s inclusion in the fourth Impressionist exhibit in 1879 and the subsequent three.
By 1890, Degas had achieved acclaim for his images of ballerinas, and Forain’s The Dressing Room (La Loge) may be a subtle jab at his mentor’s elegant images of the performers. Forain’s ballerina reaches behind her back as if unclasping her bodice for her well-dressed suitor, and the screen at right infers the act of undressing, though the modesty and propriety usually promised by such a screen seems to have little role in this transaction. A matronly attendant, presumably acting as chaperone as well, sleeps at left. The wealthy man may be a subscriber, which not only entitled him to backstage access but also promised intimate encounters with the performers. Men such as this could act as “protectors” by providing money and gifts to ballerinas, who often earned meager wages, in exchange for sexual favors. Given the lascivious scrutiny of this subscriber, he may be examining a new performer prior to entering into such a relationship. Forain heightens the eroticism and aggressive nature of the interaction through the blood red floor, which also emphasizes the ballerina’s legs so often unseen in society because of the large bustled skirts demanded by the decorum of the period.