"Miss LaLa at the Cirque Fernando," by Edgar Degas, 1879 was a controversial painting when it was exhibited at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition in Paris. And you can see why--the subject matter, the only circus painting that Degas did, the angle of the model, and the fact that the aerialist was of mixed race. So many questions for an art historian.
Miss LaLa was the Prussian born star of a circus troupe that performed at in Cirque Fernando in Montmartre, Paris. In Paris, the circus was more Cirque du Soleil with jugglers, contortionists, and high wire acts.
Miss LaLa used a dental gripping device to help her use her teeth and you can see it in the painting, but it still is an amazing feat. Degas drew many preparatory sketches before the final painting, and I think they can be seen, by permission at the Tate, London. This painting is in the National Gallery there. He also had trouble painting the ceiling and asked an architect friend to help him with the angles of the vaulted ceiling.
There was some kind of a hoist used to pull her up, and some see in this painting many things, a kind of angelic image going to heaven. But to Degas, this was in keeping with his many other paintings of women, strong, not passive, engaged in daily activities, dance, ironing, and being a performer in a circus---motion, motion, motion.
|Miss LaLa at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, Edgar Degas. Dover Press|
Olga Kaira's story is fascinating. There is a blog that goes into more detail about her life. https://thecircusgirlblog.wordpress.com/tag/olga-kaira/