All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Heather McPherson

Advisory Committee Members

Jessica Dallow

Mindy Nancarrow

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences


French modernist Edgar Degas is one of the most well-known artists of the nineteenth century and his ballet paintings are among the most identifiable works in the history of art. However, surprisingly little scholarship exists on the twentyfive mixed-media fan-shaped designs he created sporadically throughout his career. This thesis focuses on the circumstantial factors surrounding the fans’ creation, in particular the mid-nineteenth-century Japonisme craze, the connotations of the fan as an historical item, and the intersection of commodity, fashion, and gender. Degas created nineteen of the twenty-five fans from 1878-1879 for the Fourth Impressionist Exhibit. This dazzling and sumptuous group is among the most visually exciting works in Degas’s oeuvre. The first chapter of the thesis will deal with this group, which was inspired by the contemporary craze for all things Japanese. The second chapter will trace the broader cultural and aesthetic history of the fan and will contextualize Degas’s nineteenth-century creations within that history. This section will also look into Degas’s daring attempt to transform this item of women’s fashion and home décor into an aesthetic form worthy of gallery display. The third chapter of the thesis will analyze the aesthetics of and context surrounding several key fans in his oeuvre by dealing with the contemporary perception of female performers and artists and the iv intersection of gender and consumption in the mid-nineteenth century’s newly modern Paris. Degas’s fans are quintessential demonstrations of the popularity of Japonisme in the consumer society of modern Paris. Furthermore, they offer valuable insights about fashion and women’s roles in Parisian society. For years, the fans have been ignored with the notable exception of Marc Gerstein’s 1982 article1 presumably because of their connotation as craft objects despite the fact that Degas viewed them as fine art. By analyzing the role the fan has played throughout history and how Degas’s fans have been received, I hope to enhance our understanding of the artist and the fan as a fine art object.



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