When people think of Degas paintings, images of pretty ballet dancers spring and bound forth. Art aficionados make the easy association of the artist and an almost obsessive preoccupation with ballerinas. However, at the Royal Academy in the United Kingdom, an exhibition takes a different frilled wrinkle: the artist’s unprecedented approach to capturing movement.
Never before has an exhibition looked at Degas’ relationship with still photography and film. Developing technologies at the time, they clearly influenced the way Degas paintings evolved. Paintings often rely on poses: frozen, static, with all the havoc of a bowl of fruit. Now think about how a painter would capture action. The vibrancy and fluidity vanishes before the tip of the brush touches canvas, so unless one has a pristine photographic memory, the nuances of movement evaporate.
Eddie Izzard, a UK comedian, makes a joke about how in the past, tapestry makers tried vainly to create grand images of battle… in the midst of the fighting. “In modern days,” he said in his show, Stripped Live, “we’ve seen films, maybe it’s not visceral, but you could get a very good visual sense of what has gone on in the past. Back in the Battle of Hastings time, you didn’t have a clue what happened in the battle, you were either in the battle, or… you watch a tapestry. The Bayeaux Tapestry tells you in panels what is going on…. Weavers were the photo-journalists of the day.”
Degas must have seen the magical quality of a ballerina’s body in motion, and bent his mind to replicating it – not as a static still of a dancer trying to strike a pose, or a tapestry, but as an amalgam of countless iterations of the plies, pas de bourres, and jetes. Waves and waves of fluid movements broke over the studio floor, twirling and dipping again and again, so that the artist could impress upon a canvas something that resembles a modern action photo, or frame of film frozen.
This approach helped to usher in a new style, not just in Degas’ paintings, but perhaps in the entire art world. The Royal Academy’s London exhibit not only displays 85 Degas paintings, but also photography and film that influenced the artist. The show also has Degas himself on film, and hopes this different take will allow visitors to find a new appreciation for the artist.
Here at cheapoilpainting.com, browse our collection of Degas paintings, and look at the unique way that the works look animated. Look closely at how it may differ from works prior and since. And if particular works stand out, remember we offer every high-quality reproduction oil painting without paying a premium price tag. Become a fan of Edgar Degas, or if you’re already an enthusiast, perhaps you can admire the artist’s approach in a new way.