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

Trois danseuses

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Trois danseuses
stamped with the signature 'Degas' (Lugt 658; lower left)
pastel on paper
27 3/4 x 21 7/8 in. (70.5 x 55.5 cm.)
Executed circa 1889
The artist's studio; second sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 11-13 December 1918, lot 109.
René de Gas (the artist's brother), Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale, and thence by descent; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 10 November 1927, lot 43.
Morhange collection.
Anonymous sale, Piasa, Paris, 21 June 2006, lot 6.
Jean-Luc Baroni, London, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. III, 1883-1908, Paris, 1946, no. 988, p. 574 (illustrated p. 575).
New York, Adam Williams Fine Art, An Exhibition of Master Drawings and Paintings, January 2008, no. 44 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

From his first encounters with the ballet, Edgar Degas was fascinated by this captivating world of dance, illustrating every step from the arduous hours of rehearsals that lay behind each production, to the expectant preparations of the dancers as they waited in the wings, and finally, the sumptuous colours, lights, and movements that were hallmarks of their performances on stage. In Trois danseuses, the artist portrays a group of three lithe, agile dancers as they gather around a small bench, waiting for their turn to join in a rehearsal. Focusing on their informal poses as they enjoy this brief break, the artist strips away the veneer of show and spectacle usually associated with the ballet, and instead conveys an impression of the intensive, hard work that underpins the dancer’s art. The physical effort of the ballet is evident in the subtle posing of the women’s bodies, from the way the dancer sitting down gently massages her foot, to the manner in which the standing figure places her hands on her hips, as if catching her breath before she is called to re-join the rest of the company.

Executed in strong, quick, linear strokes, this work captures a sense of the swiftness with which Degas has rendered his observations, rapidly noting the line of the ballerinas’ arms, the curves of their legs, the shadows they cast, or the way their torsos bend as they reach for their shoes. Using a mixture of different coloured pastels, from the delicate touches of white that highlight the sweep of their shoulders, to the soft auburn of their coiffed hair, Degas imbues the sketch with a vivid impression of the dancers before him. The way in which he applies thin layers of pastel to the skirt of the seated dancer is particularly beautiful, capturing the ethereal, gossamer nature of the material, its soft texture and weightlessness in just a few, subtle strokes. Trois danseuses appears to have been a study for a larger oil painting, Danseuses sur la scène of 1889, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon. Portraying a dress rehearsal on stage, complete with the tall master in black, this composition features the same group of three figures on the right hand side, their poses and positions in relation to one another almost a direct translation of that seen in the present work.

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