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

Danseuse au repos

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Danseuse au repos
signed 'Degas' (lower right)
pastel and charcoal on gray paper
26 1/8 x 20 in. (66.4 x 50.6 cm.)
Drawn in 1885
Ernest Chausson, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Mme Ernest Chausson, Paris (by descent from the above); sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 5 June 1936, lot 5.
Acquired by the family of the late owner, by February 1949.
P. Lafond, Degas, Paris, 1918, vol. 1, p. 82 (illustrated, p. 83).
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, p. 472, no. 822 (illustrated, p. 473).
H. Devree, "Art by Europeans Placed on Display," The New York Times, 23 February 1949, p. 25.
C. Burrows, "Art in Review, French Works in Attractive Loan Display," New York Herald Tribune, 27 February 1949, p. 8.
Paris, Galeries Georges Petit, Degas, April-May 1924, p. 76, no. 142 (titled Jeune danseuse assise sur une banquette).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, L'Impressionnisme, June-September 1935, no. 108.
New York, The New School for Social Research, 19th and 20th Century French Paintings, February-March 1949, no. 7.

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Morgan Schoonhoven
Morgan Schoonhoven

Lot Essay

Known to many as the “painter of dance,” Degas focused on the ballet throughout his career. His life-long commitment to this subject matter allowed him to develop his balletic vocabulary through its application to paintings, drawings, as well as sculpture. As a draughtsman, his skills were rooted in his time spent at the Académie and his practice of sketching from living models. Bolstered by this background, Degas sought above all to depict the mutable nuances of the dancers’ bodies.
In the later years, his attention evolved past the onstage spectacle and he became increasingly captivated by dancers at rest in informal positions, like the one portrayed in the present work. With rich contours and subtle bursts of color, the artist draws attention to the torques of the dancer’s limbs. Degas has slightly blurred her facial features, reducing her face to a simple formula–one that is impossible to name as if her identity was less relevant than her body for his artistic needs.
The ballerinas entered the école de ballet around age seven and would go through rigorous selection and training before being approved for a career as a classical dancer. The process was physically demanding and few students passed the entrance exams into the corps de ballet. The dancers were then classified into the following five categories by status: étoiles, premières danseuses, sujets, coryphées and quadrilles. Degas depicted each of them at one point in his career; though the figures' identities are often difficult to discern. By the mid-1880s, Degas grew an international reputation for his signature theme after his participation in several of the 1870s Impressionist exhibitions where he showcased dancer pictures.
In the late nineteenth century, the Paris Opéra was a main fixture in the Parisian cultural scene with a glamorous and well-heeled audience. Entrance to its productions was expensive and reserved mainly for subscriptions, the cost of which was beyond the means for most of the public. Until around 1885, Degas’s ability to access the private rehearsals was through his own personal relationships. By 1885, he became an abonné with a subscription to attend one performance per week–this marked a personal success as the artist was able to afford his own subscription and thus no longer had to rely on personal relationships for his behind-the-scenes admission.
Around this time, Degas became acquainted with the composer Ernest Chausson at the salon of Henry Lerolle (Chausson’s brother-in-law). Lerolle’s salon attracted many leading artists, writers and musicians including Maurice Denis, Edouard Vuillard, and Claude Debussy. In May 1894, Degas invited Lerolle to visit his studio with “[his] charming brother-in-law.” Over time, Chausson became friends with the artist and acquired nine of Degas’s works including the present work, the pastels Le Bain (Lemoisne, no. 719), Danseuses aux bas rouges (Lemoisne, no. 760), Les Repasseuses (Lemoisne, no. 786), Femme nue de dos, se coiffant (Lemoisne, no. 849), Étude de danseuse (Lemoisne, no. 865), Danseuse aux bras levés (Lemoisne, no. 1095), the drawing Danseuses, and the painting Bellet du Poisat (Lemoisne, no. 133).

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