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  • Russ Ramsey

Degas' Dancers

For this Art Wednesday we’ll look at some of Edgar Degas’ dancers, one of the primary themes of his work. More than half of Degas’ paintings are of dancers. Though he is often considered an impressionist, he considered himself a Realist.

Degas, The Star, 1876


Degas was a master of depicting motion. He said, “People call me the painter of dancing girls. It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.”

Degas, The Ballet Class, 1876


Van Gogh had his sunflowers. Monet had his gardens. Degas had dancers. The Smithsonian wrote, “It was at the Opéra that Degas hoped to find subjects of composition as valid as Delacroix had found in history.”

Degas, Dancer with a Bouquet, 1878


Degas considered himself an old soul, favoring Raphael and Michelangelo, but he grew up in the modern age of photography and electricity. He studied not just the performance of dance, but the technology behind performance.

Degas, Stage Rehearsal, 1878–1879


This sculpture was first constructed with wax on wire. He made a few variations, and showed his wax version instead of a bronze casting, complete with tulle and ribbon skirt. Multiple bronze casts now exist.

Degas, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1878–1881


Degas’ Dancers at the Barre (1888) is another image he copied and revised multiple times, almost as though he used the composition to refine his technique through repetition. Artists tend to do this with familiar riffs and subject matter.

Degas, Dancers at the Barre, 1888


Degas suffered progressive retinal disease, a condition that causes vision to blur. Degas’s letters reveal he developed a blind spot in the middle of his vision, leaving him to create from the periphery.

Degas, Dancers in Blue, 1897

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