What did Degas intend by choosing to depict these men, at this location, murkily performing a “clandestine commerce”? Or more precisely what kind of financial transaction are they performing, and with what significance for a beholder of the work at the time? Ultimately, the argument will turn on whether the painting’s representation of their business dealing can be understood without a more precise accounting of its location. It will also hinge on the historical retrieval of the nature and significance of finance capitalism at the moment of the painting’s production in 1879.
Here we have a dynamic, not only of a new image culture of fashion and its free-wheeling play with different genres and image forms, but also of the operations of a new phase of capitalist development gaining ground in the early nineteenth century – particularly with regard to the development, production, and distribution of semi-luxury consumer commodities.