Description: Executed circa 1897.
signed Degas (upper left)
pastel on joined sheets of paper
Dimensions: 60 by 45.5cm.
23 5/8 by 17 7/8 in.
Exhibited: San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art, Fifth Anniversary Exhibition, 1940
Vancouver, Art Gallery, French Impressionists, 1953
San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art (on loan 1967-69)
Philadelphia, The Philadelpia Museum of Art (on loan 1983-84)
Literature: Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, no. 1278, illustrated p. 743
Franco Russoli and Fiorella Minervino, L'Opera completa di Edgar Degas, Milan, 1970, no. 1098, illustrated p. 135
Provenance: PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Durand-Ruel & Co., New York (1898)
H. Reisinger, New York (1907)
Mrs Louise Robinson, New York
Durand-Ruel & Co., New York (1928)
W. W. Crocker Burlingame, California (acquired by 1940; sale: Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, 25th February 1970, lot 6)
Private Collection, Palm Beach
Acquired by the present owner in 1995
Notes: A passionate observer of modern life, fascinated with performance and ritual, Degas explored two main themes throughout his artistic career: ballet dancers and horse races. Degas' lifelong interest in dance developed in the 1860s, when as a young man he regularly attended ballet and other performances such as opera, café-concerts and the circus. Degas was attracted to the spectacle and excitement of live entertainment and found an endless source of inspiration in ballet, sketching the performers from nature. In this manner he was able to study both the natural unguarded gestures of dancers at rest and the stylised movements of classical ballet. Degas was fascinated not only by the public spectacle of ballet performances, but also by the more informal situations around them: the behind-the-scenes world of the rehearsal room or the dance class, the dancers' preparation for and tension before a performance, and the more relaxed, casual moments that followed afterwards. In the same way as Degas often captured horses and riders in the more unofficial situations before or after the race, his ballet dancers are usually shown away from the spotlight of the stage, in the more informal moments such as warming up before a performance or resting after the training.
Request more information
Throughout Degas' career, his treatment of this subject underwent a radical metamorphosis. In the later decades, the artist's visits to the ballet became less frequent and he began working increasingly from models in his studio in the rue Victor Massé. Whereas visits to the ballet had only afforded Degas fleeting demonstrations of the dancers' choreographed movements, the privacy of the studio presented him with the opportunity to pose a model in his preferred way. It was at this time that he began to work in series, a practice which opened up a wealth of creative possibilities. In the late 1890s, he executed several variations on the subject of three dancers depicted in an undefined setting, adjusting their costumes and hair, including the present work. In Les Trois danseuses jaunes, the dancers are captured at the moment probably just before appearing on stage. With its vivid colours and a spontaneous application of pigment, the present work is a particularly vibrant example of Degas' later style, in which he abandoned a careful, studious examination of the figures' anatomy in favour of a more impressionistic approach resulting in an explosion of colours.
Degas developed his complex compositions of several dancers from numerous preliminary studies of isolated figures. These studies were often executed in charcoal on tracing paper and then transferred onto a further sheet, where they were combined with other figures to form a group. The dancers were often first drawn nude and subsequently 'clothed' in the worked up pastels with tutus, shoes and other dancing paraphernalia, examples of which Degas kept in the studio. From these initial studies Degas would construct a dramatic and vivid scene without leaving the privacy of the studio. Like many of Degas' other great ballet scenes of this period, such as the important oil, En attendant l'entrée en scène, painted circa 1895-1900 (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Chester Dale Collection; fig. 1), the dancers in the present work are captured immediately before they go on stage. They are seen standing in the wings, adjusting their clothes in preparation for their performance. In capturing an intimate moment of repose, Degas transgresses the aura surrounding the dancers, presenting them as human figures above all else.
The success of Degas' late pastels of dancers and their importance in the artist's oeuvre was acknowledged by John Rewald: 'In his [...] important pastels of dancers and nudes, he was gradually reducing the emphasis on line in order to seek the pictorial. Resorting to ever more vibrant colour effects, he found in his pastels a means to unite line and colour. While every pastel stroke became a colour accent, its function in the whole was often not different from that of the impressionist brush stroke. His pastels became multicoloured fireworks where all precision of form disappeared in favour of a texture that glittered with hatchings' (J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, p. 566).