When you are passionate about ballet and tutus as I am, you inevitably have come to admire the work of Edgar Degas. I will never forget the first time I was so privileged to admire some of his paintings and his famous "The little dancer" then at the Louvre in Paris. I must have been around 18 and was on an end-of-high school trip.
Together with my lifetime friend (we go back a long way already) - also a ballet fan, what a coincidence – we spent the total of the couple of hours allotted for the visit of the whole museum dashing around just looking for Degas's work, of course after having paid our regards to the mysterious Mona Lisa first. Just before we really urgently needed to head back to our bus, we finally ran into "The little dancer aged fourteen".
Circling her open mouthed, I clearly remember somehow identifying myself to her, even if it is a most controversial piece. Some critics decried what they thought its "appalling ugliness" while others saw in it a "blossoming". As I was just a bit older than the little girl immortalized in bronze, I personally rather agreed with the second. What a wonderful visit and experience. Needless to say I have been longing to see more of Degas’s legacy ever since.
The exhibition that will open shortly in London's Royal Academy of Arts might well be the dreamed of occasion to see a substantial amount of his vast oeuvre gathered in one place. I really hope to convince my friend to leaves her little darlings behind for a day or so and to come along, reviving our inner little girl again, complete with giggles, but maybe without all that running around this time.
Indeed, from 17 September to 11 December 2011, the Royal Academy of Arts will host a landmark exhibition focusing on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance.
Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement will trace the development of the artist’s ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years. The exhibition will be the first to present Degas’s progressive engagement with the figure in movement in the context of parallel advances in photography and early film; indeed, the artist was aparently keenly aware of these technological developments and often directly involved with them.
The exhibition will comprise around 85 paintings, sculptures, pastels, drawings, prints and photographs by Degas, as well as photographs by his contemporaries and examples of early film. It will bring together selected material from public institutions and private collections in Europe and North America including both celebrated and little-known works by Degas. Really a once in a lifetime occasion.
Highlights of the exhibition will include such masterpieces as:
- The celebrated sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1880-81, cast. c.1922, Tate, London), which will be displayed with a group of outstanding preparatory drawings that together show the artist tracking around his subject like a cinematic eye;
- Dancer Posing for a Photograph (c. 1875, Pushkin State Museum of Art, Moscow);
- Dancer on Pointe (c. 1877-78, Private collection);
- The Dance Lesson (c. 1879, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC);
- Dancers in a Rehearsal Room with a Double Bass (c. 1882-85, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and
- Three Dancers (c. 1903, Beyeler Foundation, Basel).
Edgar Degas, 'The Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen', 1880-1, cast c. 1922. Painted bronze with muslin and silk, 98.4 x 36.5 cm. Tate. Purchased with assistance from The Art Fund 1952. Image © Tate, London, 2010
Continue to read more on Edgar Degas's life, the exhibition catalogue and the practical details of the exhibition.
Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement will explore the fascinating links between Degas’s highly original way of viewing and recording the dance and the inventive experiments being made at the same time in photography by Jules-Etienne Marey and Eadweard Muybridge and in film-making by such pioneers as the Lumière brothers.
By presenting the artist in this context, the exhibition will demonstrate that Degas was far more than merely the creator of beautiful images of the ballet, but instead a modern, radical artist who thought profoundly about visual problems and was fully attuned to the technological developments of his time.
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas was born in Paris in 1834. His father was a banker from a Neapolitan family and his mother a French Créole from New Orleans. Degas began to paint early in life. By the age of eighteen, he had turned a room in his home into an artist's studio, and in 1853 he registered as a copyist in the Louvre.
His father, however, expected him to go to law school. Degas duly enrolled at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in November 1853, but made little effort at his studies. In 1855, Degas met Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, whom he revered, and whose advice he never forgot: he flourished, following the style of Ingres.After studying briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Degas travelled in Italy, largely teaching himself by copying works of art in museums and churches.
"Draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory, and you will become a good artist."
In April of that same year, Degas received admission to the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied drawing with Louis Lamothe, under whose guidance
Early in his career, he wanted to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classic art. In his early thirties, he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.
|Edgar Degas c. 1850s|
From 1865 to 1870 he regularly submitted large historical compositions to the Salon in Paris, but in around 1870 he began to concentrate on subjects from modern life, including the dance. A leader of the Impressionists, although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist, Degas exhibited regularly at their group exhibitions.
In the late 1880s, Degas also developed a passion for photography. He photographed many of his friends, often by lamplight, as in his double portrait of Renoir and Mallarmê. Other photographs, depicting dancers and nudes, were used for reference in some of Degas's drawings and paintings.
Apart from the dance which amounts for over half of his works, racehorses and bathing women were his principal subjects. Although he is known to have been working in pastel as late as the end of 1907, and is believed to have continued making sculpture as late as 1910, he apparently ceased working in 1912 forced by his increasing blindness.
Degas's only showing of sculpture during his life took place in 1881 when he exhibited The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer, only shown again in 1920; the rest of the sculptural works remained private until a posthumous exhibition in 1918. He never married and spent the last years of his life, nearly blind, restlessly wandering the streets of Paris before dying in Montmartre in September 1917.
Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement has been curated by Richard Kendall, Curator at Large, The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA; Jill DeVonyar, independent curator; and Ann Dumas, Exhibition Curator, Royal Academy of Arts.
Edgar Degas is best known for his vivid studies of dancers. He captured his young female subjects warming up, practising at the bar or mid-performance with a stunning immediacy and accuracy, on canvas, paper and in bronze.
Illustrated with drawings, pastels, paintings, prints and sculpture, this beautiful book proposes that Degas’s ballet imagery is more than simply an expression of his lifelong engagement with the figure in movement.
Exploring the artist’s innovative approach to his subject matter in the context of contemporary developments in photography and film, the renowned Degas scholars Richard Kendall and Jill DeVonyar bring together photographs taken by the artist and his contemporaries and samples of film from the period, establishing the importance of early visual technologies to Degas’s work for the first time.
This catalogue has 277 pages, approx 250 illustrations and measures 28 25cm.
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