The acrobat Miss La La caused a sensation when she performed at the Cirque Fernando in Paris. Here she is shown suspended from the rafters of the circus dome by a rope clenched between her teeth.
Degas sought out such striking modern subjects, concentrating on figures in arresting poses. In January 1879 he make a series of drawings at the Cirque Fernando including a pastel study of Miss La La (London, Tate Gallery), which culminated in this painting. We view the spectacle as the audience would have done, gazing up at the daring feat taking place above.
The painting was exhibited at the fourth Impressionist exhibition held in April 1879 and was on loan to the exhibition 'Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800-1900' at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from January to April 2006.