What an interesting couple of weeks it has been for Degas artworks – a lost one was found, his most famous and prized bronze sculpture failed to sell, while a standout exhibition reported higher than expected numbers in a positive outlook for galleries, despite the financial gloom and a cut in household discretionary spending. It is amazing and a testament to the French realist/impressionist that after so many years – 2011 marks 94 years since his death and 177 since his birth – he still possesses the power to inspire and instigate. So let’s take a look at Blanchisseuses souffrant des dents or Laundry Women with Toothache, which while not a classic, is still an important Degas painting.
The Degas oil painting was stolen in 1973 from the Havre Museum in Normandy, where it had been stored by the Louvre since 1960. This month it turned up at a Sotheby’s auction in the U.S., but it was immediately removed from sale once a member of the Havre Museum saw the advanced catalogue and alerted authorities. Sotheby’s had listed the price of the oil painting at USD $350,000-450,000 for sale in its then upcoming sale of impressionist art. A French official said so far everyone was cooperation well. “We contacted Sotheby's which agreed to withdraw it from the auction,” the official said. “We will begin friendly negotiations with the owner who appears to be of good faith via the auction house.” French and U.S. police are investigating the incident, while Interpol are also understood to be looking in. With three such capable organisations, we expect an exciting follow up.
In other Degas news, organisers Richard Kendall and Jill Devonyar from the Royal Academy are chuffed that their exhibition, Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement, has had a larger than expected turnout, especially before its planned December 11 closing date. The “landmark exhibition” (their words) focuses on Edgar Degas’s fixation with movement as an artist of the dance, tracing the progress of the artist’s ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the intense articulateness of his concluding years. Kendall and Devonyar believe the chronological timeline, which juxtaposes and shows the audience how Degas made his advancements in time with technology, has touched a chord with visitors. Indeed, there are strong emotional hooks as well. The display ends with Sacha Guitry’s famous documentary featuring aging painters and their lives; the famously private and irritable Degas, now just two years before his death, refused to take part in the film. Nevertheless, Guitry filmed him on the sly as he hobbled down a Paris street, thin, white-bearded and upright. Degas walks slowly to the camera, and the audience, before vanishing off screen. A clean and powerful ending!
Finally, overzealous Christie’s appraisers have been blamed for the lacklustre sale of the auction house’s Impressionist and modern art auction in New York, held on Nov 1. The company only sold USD $140.8 million of works, which meant 38 percent of the 82 lots failed to find buyers. Included in this was the star of the auction, the Edgar Degas bronze sculpture Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, which was expected to fetch as much as USD $35 million. The last sculpture sold in 2000 for USD $11.6 million, so the fact that it couldn’t even find a buyer was a bit of a letdown for Degas enthusiasts. Let’s hope a wealthy industrialist will buy it and put it on public display. We can only hope.