Dancers and Degas
Today, many little girls dream of being a ballerina but it has not always been a profession to be proud of. In the 18th and 19th centuries being a dancer was equivalent to being a prostitute, especially in France. The Paris Opera, the main theatre for dance, was also commonly called the brothel of France. Though dancers were not thought of as honorable women, they were still greatly represented in art. Edgar Degas, the 19th century French artist, was enthralled with dancers and performances. However, many of his artworks focused on the preparation of the dancers, rather than the actual performances. Degas is known as one of the founders of impressionism, but he rejected that label and considered himself a realist. He saw his paintings, sculptures, and drawings of dancers as real life portrayals of their experiences.
Degas illustrates dancers in groups and as individuals, but never leaves the representation of a dancers life out. He was fascinated by the way in which dancers were able to move their bodies and by the implications of the movements. In his representations of dancers, he showed the skill that each individual had as well as the strain that dancing caused on their bodies. This exhibition focuses on the way that Degas uses vantage points and lines to capture the different movements of the dancers he was depicting.
Edgar Degas, The Dancing Class, 1870, Oil on wood, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.100.184
Edgar Degas, The Ballet from “Robert le Diable,” 1871 Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.100.552
Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, 1874,
Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.47.1
Edgar Degas, Dancers Practicing at the Barre, 1877,
mixed media on canvas, Metropolitan
Museum of Art, 29.100.34
In this painting, Degas uses the mundane everyday items to create a sense of conversation between the subjects. The watering can in the left corner was used to keep the floor wet, which decreased the amount of dust in the air. The dancers’ positions at the bar mimic the shape of the watering can. Degas uses the dance bar and the baseboard to take the viewers eye from left to right. The strain of what the dancers are doing can be seen and felt in the way that the girl with the yellow bow is reaching and hunched over. The diagonal line of the painting creates a sensation of the dancer reaching upwards.
Edgar Degas, Dancers in the Rehearsal Room with a Double Bass, 1882-85,
Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.100.127
Edgar Degas, Dancers, Pink and Green, 1890,
on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.100. 42