EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
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EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)


EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
signed ‘Degas’ (lower right)
pastel on paper mounted along the edges on board
Sheet size: 20 ¾ x 14 1⁄8 in. (52.4 x 35.9 cm.)
Executed circa 1897-1900
Ambroise Vollard, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist.
Madeleine de Galéa, Paris, by whom acquired from the above.
Jacques Gérard, New York; his estate sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Los Angeles, 25 February 1974, lot 34.
Gregory & Lucie Javitch, Montreal.
Private collection, United States.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired from the above in 1987; sale, Christie's, New York, 16 May 1990, lot 109.
Private collection, Japan, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Christie’s, New York, 19 November 1998, lot 155.
Private collection, Germany, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999.
A. Vollard, Degas: Quatre-vingt-dix-huit reproductions signées par Degas (peintures, pastels, dessins et estampes), Paris, 1914 (illustrated pl. LXXXVIII).
P. A. Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, no. 1300, p. 756 (illustrated p. 757).
V. Endicott Barnett, The Guggenheim Museum: Justin K. Thannhauser Collection, New York, 1978, p. 48.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

From his first encounters with the ballet, Edgar Degas had been captivated by the fascinating world of the dance, drawn to the spectacles as they played out across the illustrious stages of Paris. Rather than solely depicting the polished, perfected idealism of the ballerinas’ final performances, however, Degas also trained his attention on the hours of arduous practice and work that lay behind their art, capturing dancers by day, in both the rehearsal room and back-stage, as they moved through exercises and choreographed routines, repeating their steps over and over again to prepare for their moment in the spotlight. This alternative realm offered Degas an unrivalled opportunity to study the human form in a myriad of different poses and variations, from the elegant, balletic positions the dancers adopted as they rehearsed and performed, to their relaxed movements and actions in between practice, as they stretched, waited, rested, pulled at their tights or sashes, or tied their slippers. These ballerinas occupied Degas’s imagination intensively over the years, right up to the close of his working life, and are among the most celebrated themes of Impressionism.

Created circa 1897-1900, Danseuse is an elegant example of Degas’s artistic ruminations on the unmannered movements of the ballet dancer at ease – here, the central character props one leg on the bench beside her as she takes a short break, reaching down toward her left foot and twisting her body in a deep stretch that provides a glimpse of the intense physicality required for her profession. Though captured in a moment of rest, the lithe, agile dancer remains alert to the rehearsal carrying on around her, her gaze fixed on something outside the frame of the composition, most likely the movements of her fellow ballerinas as they continue on with the performance. As a result, Degas infuses her body with a taut, suspenseful energy – though momentarily stationary, the ballet dancer remains poised and watchful, ready to rejoin the rehearsal as soon as she is called upon.

Degas himself was open about the fact that his pictures, while intended to look like snapshots, were in fact the product of a great deal of investigation and rigorous execution. ‘I assure you that no art was ever less spontaneous than mine,’ he confessed. ‘What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament… I know nothing’ (quoted in R. Kendall, ed., Degas by Himself: Drawings, Prints, Paintings, Writings, London, 1987, p. 311). He typically returned to the same pose across multiple different compositions, exploring its potential in charcoal drawings, pastels, wax sculpture and oil on canvas, alternately incorporating it into a larger, multi-figure grouping, sometimes isolating them on the page. Within each variation on the theme, Degas introduced subtle changes, altering small elements such as the angle from which the subject was seen, or the slight tilt of the body as it leaned into a pose, as he sought to capture a vivid, organic impression of the figure in motion.

The positioning of the seated figure in the present Danseuse is one Degas concentrated on across a quartet of drawings and pastels between 1897 and 1900 (Lemoisne, nos. 1299-1301), along with another pair of slightly later pastels, one a counterproof of the other (Lemoisne, nos. 1302 and 1303). In the latter two examples – one of which now resides at The Baltimore Museum of Art having been gifted to the institution by the forward thinking collectors Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone in 1905 – Degas expands the surrounding view, revealing details of the rehearsal room in which the dancer sits.

In each iteration of the subject, Degas made subtle alterations and variations to the figure as he worked through the pose, analysing and studying the proportions of the dancer’s body, the arrangement of her limbs, the way her weight settled as she shifted slightly to one side. A number of intriguing pentimenti remain visible across the present sheet as a result, tracing the evolution of Degas’s ideas as he studied the figure – several revisions can be seen in the dancer’s outline, the soft, parallel strokes of charcoal displaying how the lines and angles of her body changed as the artist committed the pose to paper. These deft lines are almost subsumed by the clouds of colourful pastel that Degas used to describe the dancer’s form, costume and the surrounding environment, the interlacing network of soft strokes of pigment creating rich layers of colour that convey the distinctive texture of the dancer’s diaphanous skirt as well as the creamy, luminosity of her skin.

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