Private Life of Degas
I recently read a novel about Degas and his ballerina model. In the novel the shocking story line is that the dancers in the French ballet were considered high class prostitutes. In addition, the ballet master profited from this arrangement.
"The lives of the dancers were terrible. In order to survive, professionally and financially, they were essentially working a second job as high-brow “ladies of the night” – playing with the hearts of the aristocrats to gain housing, a nice wardrobe, and higher professional standing. Some did this willingly, and others did it to avoid the miserable life that was the working class in Paris in the 17- and 1800′s." (www.artintercepts.org)
Degas said his soul was like a worn pink satin ballet shoe. The dance was in his blood but by all accounts, he was celibate. He drew them but did not touch them.
Van Gogh wrote to Bernard: "Degas lives like some petty lawyer and doesn't like women, knowing very well that if he did like them and bedded them frequently, he'd go to seed and be in no position to paint any longer. The very reason Degas's painting is virile and impersonal is that ... he observes human animals who are stronger than himself screwing and fucking away and he paints them so well for the very reason he isn't all that keen on it himself." (www.guardian.co.uk)
Since Van Gogh's brother was an art dealer, Van Gogh had inside information concerning many of the artists. Van Gogh admired Degas' restraint since he, himself, had none.
Degas kept some of his art private which was only discovered after his death. Several of the pastels are of women in the nude. His idea was to present the woman unaware as if someone was looking through a key hole. Many said that Degas hated women but Van Gogh said that Degas painted women "who are stronger than himself".
In later years Degas became anti-Semitic. Fear, frustration and insecurity must have played heavily on his mind. The end is never happy when these sort of demons dwell inside us.