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

La danse espagnole

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
La danse espagnole
signed and stamped with foundry mark 'Degas AA HEBRARD CIRE PERDUE' (Lugt 658; on the top of the base); numbered '45/E' (on the side of the base)
bronze with dark brown patina
Height: 17¼ in. (43.8 cm.)
Original wax model executed circa 1885; this bronze version cast at a later date in an edition numbered A to T, plus two casts reserved for the Degas heirs and the founder Hébrard, marked HER.D and HER respectively
Galerie René Drouet, Paris.
Mr. and Mrs. Neison Harris, Chicago (acquired from the above, 3 July 1971).
Private collection, United States (by descent from the above); sale, Christie's, New York, 1 November 2005, lot 7.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Rewald, Degas: Works in Sculpture, A Complete Catalogue, New York, 1944, p. 25, no. XLVII (original plaster cast and another bronze version illustrated, pp. 104-105).
J. Rewald and L. von Matt, Degas Sculpture: The Complete Works, New York, 1956, p. 152, no. XLVII (original wax model illustrated, pls. 46-50).
F. Russoli and F. Minervino, L'opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, p. 141. no. S17 (another cast illustrated).
C.W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976, pl. 69 (original wax model illustrated; plaster version illustrated, pl. 73).
J. Rewald, Degas's Complete Sculpture: Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1990, pp. 132-133, no. XLVII (original wax model illustrated).
A. Pingeot, Degas, Sculptures, Paris, 1991, p. 160, no. 17 (another cast and original wax model illustrated; another cast illustrated, pp. 42-43).
S. Campbell, "Degas, The Sculptures: A Catalogue Raisonné" in Apollo, vol. CXLII, no. 402, August 1995, pp. 32-33, no. 45 (another cast illustrated, fig. 43; with incorrect provenance).
J.S. Czestochowski and A. Pingeot, Degas Sculptures: Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, p. 209, no. 45 (another cast illustrated in color, pp. 208-209; with incorrect provenance).
S. Campbell, R. Kendall, D.S. Barbour and S.G. Sturman, Degas in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, 2009, vol. II, pp. 293-297 and 535-536, no. 45 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 294; original wax model and plaster version illustrated, p. 295).
S.G. Lindsay, D.S. Barbour and S.G. Sturman, Edgar Degas Sculpture, Washington, D.C., 2010, pp. 156-161 and 362, no. 20 (original wax model illustrated, pp. 156-157 and 362; plaster version illustrated, p. 158).

Lot Essay

Dancers account for forty of the seventy-four sculptures that Degas modeled in wax and are known today. Many of these relate to the strict discipline and technique of classical ballet as practiced by the French dancing masters and choreographers of the late 19th century. A most remarkable exception, however, is the present sculpture, La danse espagnole, which stands out among the rest for its spontaneous sense of excited abandon and sensuality, characteristics that clearly relate to its Spanish theme.

All things Spanish were very much on the minds of French artists, writers and musicians from mid-century onwards. The French king Louis-Philippe, an ardent Hispanophile, bought up large numbers of Spanish art works during the 1830s for his Galerie Espagnole in Paris. Degas visited Spain in 1889, after he modeled La danse espagnole, but his eye for Spanish painting had already made itself known in his art, especially in his portraits, even if he only rarely treated overtly Spanish subjects, such as a fan showing Spanish dancers and musicians in a mountainous landscape, 1868-1869 (Lemoisne, no. 173; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

Spanish dance troupes had been a popular attraction in Paris from the 1830s onward. Conservative dance specialists resisted the intrusion of Spanish elements into classic French ballet, but others, such as the choreographer Carlo Blasis, prized the Spanish character in dance for its "hauteur, pride, love and arrogance" (quoted in S.G. Lindsay et al., op. cit., p. 159). By Degas' time the movements of a suitably Europeanized interpretation of Spanish dance forms were standard among balletic character steps. Bizet transposed colorful folkloric elements into the music, drama and dance of his opera Carmen, which premiered in 1875.

Charles Millard has observed in La danse espagnole "a spiral configuration that rises through the hip-shot torso, around the curving left arm turned head, and up through the raised right arm, whence it returned to the body by the relationship of the hand to the head...a sculptural statement of a sophistication unrivalled in the nineteenth century. The curving and spiraling of the forms completely does away with any sense of frontality, and the figure is wholly satisfactory from any angle" (op. cit., pp. 102-103).

"The extreme torsion of this figure is more often associated with the statuettes of bathers and nudes," Jill DeVonyar and Richard Kendall have noted. "It remains, however, a masterful achievement, both as an acute record of superbly trained professional with an elegantly pointed foot and turned-out leg, and as a thrilling conjunction of rippling surfaces and taut, resilient forms" (Degas and the Dance, exh. cat., American Federation of the Arts, New York, 2002, p. 140).

Degas' fondness for his young Spanish dancer led him to have the wax cast in plaster around 1900, one of only three models to which he gave such special treatment during his lifetime, and kept on display in the apartment beneath his studio. Perhaps using this plaster as his model, Degas created a second Danse espagnole (Bronze no. 20; Rewald LXVI, dated 1896-1911). The sculpture Danseuse au tambourine (Bronze no. 12; Rewald XXXIV) completes Degas' trio of Spanish subjects. "Common to all three figures is a sense of lithe, almost serpentine exertion as the portrayed dancer moves her body in a stylized, flamboyant manner," DeVonyar and Kendall have written. "Degas [was] determined to animate his inert materials and not just 'depict' movement, but embody it in the sinuous forms and flowing surfaces of these statuettes" (Degas and the Ballet, exh. cat., Royal Academy of the Arts, London, 2011, p. 214).

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