"Monsieur Degas, you just said some things that would make an old soldier blush!"
There are many myths about Edgar Degas—from Degas the misanthrope to Degas the deviant to Degas the obsessive. But there is no single text that better stokes the fire than Degas and His Model, a short memoir by Alice Michel, who purportedly modeled for Degas. Never before translated into English, the text’s original publication in Mercure de France in 1919, shortly after the artist’s death, has been treated as an important account of the master sculptor at work. We know that Alice was writing under a pseudonym, but who the real person behind this account was remains a mystery. Yet the descriptions seem too accurate, the anecdotes too spot-on to discount; even the dialogue captures the artist’s tone and mannerisms.
What is found in these pages is at times a woman’s flirtatious recollection of a bizarre “artistic type” and at others a moving attempt to connect with a great, often tragic man. The descriptions are limpid; the dialogue is lively and intimate, not unlike reading the very best kind of gossip, with world-historical significance.
Alice Michel is the pseudonym used by the unknown author of Degas and His Model.
Jeff Nagy is a translator, critic, and historian of technology based in Palo Alto, California. His research focuses on networks pre- and post-Internet and the development of digital labor.