Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas was born in Paris, France, in 1834. His dad was a banker, which meant the life of a struggling artist was not his destiny. Rather, Degas could afford to take holidays to French New Orleans, and self-funded trips to Italy and other parts of Europe where he would copy the masters. His career is normally dissected into two main parts by art historians: 1865 to 1870, where he consistently submitted large historical paintings to the Salon, most of which were rejected. The second part of his career started about 1870, when he switched themes and started to focus on modern issues, including dancers and everyday people such as restaurant staff. It was at this time that he also started exhibiting with the Impressionists, but instead of displaying landscape works, his impressions were of the ballet dancers he so adored.
The ballet dancers and the Degas paintings and artwork that captured them are the focus of the latest Degas exhibition, entitled Degas and Ballet: Picturing Movement, held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. The exhibition has already been widely hailed as a fresh and engaging approach to the venerated master, with curators Richard Kendall (Curator at Large, The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA) Jill DeVonyar (independent curator) and Ann Dumas (Exhibition Curator, Royal Academy of Arts) praised for their engaging offering. The exhibition claims to combine, for the first time, a range of artistic influences that Degas adopted into his oil paintings and sculptures. For example, Degas was known to photograph his dancers in several poses in preparation for his paintings. Thus, the works of contemporary photographers such as Jules-Etienne Marey and Eadweard Muybridge are displayed so viewers can see the link between their photos, Degas’ photos, and the end result. In much the same way, links are also explored between the pioneering film-works of the Lumie`re brothers. Hence, viewers to the exhibition are able to see that Degas was indeed a radical artist for his time, even if by today’s standards he seems traditional.
To support this theme the curators have secured an impressive selection of Degas artwork. The exhibition features 85 oil paintings, pastels, sculptures, drawings, photographs and prints, in addition to the work of his contemporaries. Some of the artwork was loaned from public institutions, but many are also from private collections, meaning they are on public display for the first time from European and North American private collections. Highlights include the distinguished sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1880-81, cast circa 922 (from the Tate, London), which will be displayed with a series of wonderful preparatory drawings. Another notable work will be Dancer Posing for a Photograph, 1875 (Pushkin State Museum of Art, Moscow) and Dancer on Pointe circa 1877-78, on loan from a private collection.
If you can’t make it to the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House, Piccadilly, in the great cosmopolitan city of London, fret not. The internet is vast, and nearly every piece of Degas artwork can be found online. If you are interested in buying a Degas painting or drawing, be sure to view our extensive Degas gallery. We’re sure you’ll find a dancer to fall in love with.