Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit
signed, numbered and stamped with foundry mark 'Degas 40/E A A HEBRARD CIRE PERDUE' (Lugt 658; on the base)
bronze with dark brown patina
Height: 18 in. (45.7 cm.)
Original wax model executed circa 1895 and cast in an edition of twenty-two, numbered A-T plus two casts reserved for the Degas heirs and the founder Hébrard; marked 'HER' and 'HER.D' respectively
Acquired by the family of the present owner, circa 1950.
M. Rebatet, Degas, Paris, 1944 (another cast illustrated, pl. 128). J. Rewald, Degas: Works in Sculpture, A Complete Catalogue, London, 1944, p. 25, no. XLV (another cast illustrated, pp. 101-102).
P. Borel, Les sculptures inédites des Degas, Geneva, 1949 (another cast illustrated).
J. Fevre, Mon oncle Degas, Geneva, 1949 (another cast illustrated, facing pl. 112).
J. Rewald, Degas Sculpture, New York, 1956, pp. 150-151, no. XLV (another cast illustrated pls. 57 and 61).
P. Cabanne, Edgar Degas, Paris, 1958, p. 61 (another cast illustrated, pl. IX).
F. Russoli and F. Minervino, L'Opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, p. 142, no. S32 (another cast illustrated).
C.W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976, pp. 18-19 (another cast illustrated).
D. Sutton, Edgar Degas, Life and Work, New York, 1986 (another cast illustrated, pl. 182).
J. Rewald, Degas's Complete Sculpture: Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1990, p. 128, no. XLV (original wax model illustrated; another cast illustrated, p. 129).
S. Campbell, 'Degas: The Sculptures, A Catalogue Raisonné,' in Apollo, August 1995, vol. CXLII, p. 30, no. 40 (another cast illustrated).
J.S. Czestochowski and A. Pingeot, Degas Sculpture: Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, p. 199, no. 40 (another cast illustrated; another cast illustrated again in color).

Lot Essay

More than half of Degas' oeuvre is devoted to depicting the activities of ballet dancers; he was attracted to their movements, which were both spontaneously active and disciplined, as well as the artificial lighting and unusual viewpoints that the ballet stage and practice rooms allowed. Often he depicted the ballerinas backstage at awkward moments, catching them off guard. In doing this, he seems to have deliberately attempted to strip the ballet of its glamour. The present sculpture is one of three bronzes devoted to the theme of a dancer inspecting the sole of her right foot. Although this is obviously an action performed off the stage, assuming this position nevertheless requires a delicate balance of the ballerina. There are forces of energy directed both away from the body, as in the outstretched arm, and inward towards the body, in the down turned head and the hand holding the foot. It is perhaps the precariousness of this pose that attracted Degas, who must have relished the challenge of depicting the body at the extreme limit of balance.

There is nothing inherently related to the ballet dancer in this pose. Without regard for the sculpture's title, one might consider it a depiction of a bather inspecting the sole of her foot during her toilette. In fact, many of the poses Degas chose to depict for his dancers were not unique to the ballet; they are often casual poses that were not necessarily held longer than other positions or more easily observable on the stage. Degas sometimes chose poses that corresponded to those he knew from the art of classical Greece and Renaissance Italy. Degas was classically trained at the cole des Beaux-Arts, and as a young artist spent much of his time copying the Old Masters and classical Greek sculptures, until he built up an extensive repertoire of anatomical poses. The artist appears to have chosen some of his ballerinas' stances for their inherent interest as movement and not because they were signifiers of any occupation in particular.

The pose in Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit can be ultimately traced back to the Spinario, a Greco-Roman Hellenistic bronze sculpture of a boy removing a thorn from the sole of his foot. This theme was explored extensively in both marble and bronze in classical Greece and Rome. The pose was then transformed in the classical sculpture of Aphrodite, a figure who viewed her foot while standing rather than sitting. Degas likely saw a reproduction of the Aphrodite in the book Terres Cuites d'Asie Mineure, by W. Froehner, published in Paris in 1881. The artist summoned this image when he set out to create Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit, but transformed the pose to complement his own agile style, and consequently stayed true to his direct observation of the dancers. Scholars J. De Vonyar and R. Kendall have written that "While Degas' well-stocked memory provided many starting points for his figurative repertoire, he was equally inclined to regard such models as precedents to be superceded, not complacently echoed" (J. De Vonyar and R. Kendall, Degas and the Dance, New York, 2002, p. 247).

As he often did, Degas restated the pose of this sculpture in two-dimensional form, when he painted the figure in the foreground of Danseuse, circa 1895-1900 (Lemoisne, no. 588, National Gallery, London). Degas also used this pose, seen reversed, for a bather in Le Bain du matin, 1890 (Lemoisne, no. 1028, The Art Institute of Chicago). While it is known that Degas drew from his own sculptures, the inability to precisely date these inter-related works makes it impossible in this case to track the developing chronology of this pose among its drawn, painted and sculptural counterparts, to know which version became the model for the others. What is clearly evident, however, is that Degas was intrigued by this pose and its classical origin, and that he returned to it on at least several occasions in his late work.

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