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Lot 11: DANSEUSE

Impressionist & Modern Art - Part One

by Sotheby's

May 6, 2003

New York, NY, USA

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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Description: Signed Degas (lower right)
Pastel on paper mounted on cardboard

Executed circa 1885-90.

Notes: Literature:
Les Arts, Paris, August 1912, no. 128, illustrated p. 11
Charles Louis Borgmeyer, The Master Impressionists, Chicago, 1913, discussed p. 234
Ambroise Vollard, Degas, Quatre-vingt-dix-huit reproductions signées par Degas, Paris, 1914, illustrated
Bernheim-Jeune, L'art moderne et quelques aspects de l'art d'autrefois, Paris, 1919, illustrated pl. 55
Juluis Meier- Graefe, Degas, London, 1923, illustrated pl. 46
C.C. Cunningham, "A Danseuse by Edgar Degas," Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, Boston, April 1935, illustrated on the frontispiece
C.C. Cunningham, "Degas' Danseuse," Boston Teacher's News Letter, Boston, April 1935, illustrated p. 14
American Magazine of Art, New York, April 1935, illustrated on the frontispiece
Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. 2, Paris, 1946, no. 484, illustrated p. 267 (as dating from circa 1878)
George Harold Edgell, French Painters in the Museum of Fine Arts, Corot to Utrillo, Boston, 1949, illustrated p. 43
Lillian Browse, Degas Dancers, Boston, 1949, no. 160, illustrated pl. 160
Franco Russoli and Fiorella Minervino, L'opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. 528, illustrated p. 111
Alexander R. Murphy, European Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 1985, illustrated p. 76

By the 1880s, Edgar Degas was renowned in France and abroad for his depiction of the ballet of the Paris Opera. At the Impressionist exhibitions and at galleries in Paris, collectors had admired his sophisticated treatment of ballet themes which were initially focused on the dancer in the classroom but which, by the mid-1880s, had increasingly given attention to the dancer, alone or in company, in performance on the stage. Degas's Danseuse, dating from the middle of the decade, is an iconic image among the artist's many depictions of dancers in performance. Here the figure performs a delicate bowing movement, at the end of a solo or in reaction to the applause of the audience.

In her pioneering study of Degas and the dance (Lillian Browse, Degas Dancers, Boston, 1949, pp.389-90), Lillian Browse contrasted the pose of the dancer in the present work, Danseuse - "She stands facing left, acknowledging her audience with her right hand" - with that of the dancer in Danseuse jaune (see fig. 1) Although identical in format and viewpoint, the dancer in the latter work ``stands facing left in quatrième croisée sur les demi-pointes as she acknowledges her audience,'' a subtle difference to the casual observer but an important distinction to the choreographer or the dance historian. Closely related yet widely different in effect, the two pastels are fascinating examples of Degas' ability to transform the meaning of identical motifs through formal and coloristic means.

By the time Degas executed the present work, he had been immersed in the world of opera and dance for at least twenty years. As Jill de Vonyar and Richard Kendall indicate (Jill de Vonyar and Richard Kendall, Degas and the Dance, New York, 2002, p. 15), in fragmentary notebook drawings made between 1860 and 1862, there are already suggestive references to contemporary dance and opera productions. During the next two decades the Opéra on the rue Le Peletier (destroyed by fire in 1873) and the much grander building that replaced it in 1875, the Palais Garnier, were to become indispensable to Degas' social and working life. Not only were the practice rooms and the stage productions the subject of many of his most important works during this period but many of his closest friends were either musicians or abonnes (season ticket holders) of the opera. ``At times Degas' engagement with the routines of the opera can appear encyclopedic and his advertisement of the fact almost shameless" (ibid., p. 14). Much of his activity occurred backstage and his studies of training sessions in the classrooms and of numerous personalities from the company give a remarkably complete view of the workings of this complex organization. Once on the other side of the footlights, studies of the stage from the orchestra pit gave an unusually intimate view of current productions. His studies of the spatial complexities of the theatrical experience were no less exhaustive. ``Between 1875 and 1885 we can trace his increased mobility within the theater, moving from one level of seats to another, approaching and retreating from the stage, and investigating extreme and previously unexplored angles of view" (ibid., p. 98).

As can be seen from the countless studies of all aspects of the dance, Degas approached this subject methodically and with great discipline, indicative of his training in classical methods. Two of the earliest ballet pictures - Classe de danse, 1871 (Lemoisne 297, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Foyer de la Danse á l'Opera (Lemoisne 298, Musée d'Orsay) were executed with a precision that rivaled that of the Old Masters or the modern historicist Ernest Meissonnier. Succeeding works of the mid 1870s were as carefully documentary as his studies of the racing world, laundries, cafés and cabarets. From the subdued, dedicated atmosphere of the rehearsal room, Degas gradually moved to the stage itself, viewing performances from the wings as well as a variety of positions in front of the proscenium stage. As his work developed, the references to specific performances became less frequent. In the series of works dedicated to actual performances - to the etoiles seen dancing and taking their bows - Degas investigated the theatrical illusion created by the potent combination of music, movement and theatrical lighting.

In the work under discussion, the entire focus is on the young dancer taking her bow. Although it is not possible to identify the model with any degree of certainty, the names of Marie van Goethem, the model for the celebrated sculpture Petite danseuse de quatorze ans (see fig. 2), and her younger sister Louise-Josephine van Goethem have both been proposed. Marie was six years older than her sister but whether one sister or the other, the dancer in the present work is an ``ingenue'' represented at the beginning of her career. Her softly rounded form, silhouetted against the richly colored backdrop which recalls some of Degas' most abstract landscapes, is bathed in a warm flattering light. The effect is graceful, tender and romantic, altogether more intimate and delicate than the effect that the artist achieves in Danseuse jaune. In the latter the dancer takes her bow against a frieze of dancers stretching and relaxing while they wait to come on the stage to take their own bow. In contrast with the even glow of the lighting in Danseuse, the stage lighting in Danseuse jaune is stronger, serving to emphasize the angularity of the dancer's physique and the sharpness of her nose, as well as the contrasting colors of the costumes. It is the difference, perhaps, between surrendering to stage illusion in Danseuse and seeing through it in Danseuse jaune.

Belonging to the same constellation of works are Danseuse rose (Lemoisne 471, see fig. 3) and Danseuse en mauve (Lemosine 472). In both of these the dancer is seen not from the privileged position of the wings but from that of a spectator in the theater, resulting in a more frontal viewpoint. Two other works - Danseues roses (Lemoisne 486, see fig. 4) and Danseuse vertes (Lemoisne 473) may have been inspired by the same dancer who was evidently proud of her long auburn hair. A grand reprise came with Danseuses aux bouquets, 1890-1900 (Lemoisne 1264, see fig. 5) which is at one and the same time a memory of past experiences at countless theatrical performances and a summation of Degas' late painterly style.

Comparables
1. Edgar Degas, Danseuse jaune, circa 1885, pastel on paper, Private Collection
2. Edgar Degas, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, 1878- 1880, bronze and fabric, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
3. Edgar Degas, Danseuse rose, circa 1885, pastel on paper, Private Collection
4. Edgar Degas, Danseuses roses, circa 1885, pastel on cardboard, The Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena
5. Edgar Degas, Danseuse aux bouquets, 1890-1900, oil on canvas, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia

Provenance: Property from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Sold for the benefit of acquisition funds
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (by 1912)
(possibly) C.M. de Hauke, New York
Jacques Seligmann, New York (acquired from the above by at least 1934)
Acquired from the above on January 10, 1935

Exhibited:
Paris, Hôtel de la Revue, Exposition de l'art moderne, 1912
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Independant Painters of the Nineteenth Century, 1935
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Impressionism: French and American, 1973, no. 7
Framingham, Danforth Museum, Inaugural Exhibition, 1975
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Edgar Degas: The Painter as Printmaker
, 1984-85

Dimensions: 30 1/4 by 17 3/4in. 76.8 by 45.1cm

Artist or Maker: EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

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