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

Position de quatrième devant sur la jambe gauche

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Position de quatrième devant sur la jambe gauche
signed, numbered and stamped with foundry mark 'Degas 58/B AA HEBRARD CIRE PERDUE' (on the top of the base)
bronze with golden brown patina
Height: 23 ¼ in. (59 cm.)
Conceived circa 1885-1890; this bronze version cast between 1919-1921 in an edition numbered A to T, plus two casts reserved for the Degas heirs and the founder Hébrard marked HER.D and HER respectively
Walther Halvorsen, Paris.
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (1922).
Ferargil Galleries, New York, 1925.
Cornelius J. Sullivan, New York.
Anon. sale, American Art Association, New York, 30 April 1937, lot 213.
Edward J. Bowes, New York; Estate sale, Kende Galleries, New York, 28 October 1946.
Mrs. Jack L. Warner, Beverly Hills; sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 15 May 1985, lot 313.
Acquired at the above sale by Achim Moeller Fine Art on behalf of John C. Whitehead.
J. Rewald, Degas: Works in Sculpture, A Complete Catalogue, New York, 1944, p. 24, no. XLIII (another cast illustrated, p. 98).
L. Von Matt and J. Rewald, Degas: Sculpture, Zürich, 1956, p. 150, no. XLIII (another cast illustrated, pls. 32 and 43-44).
F. Russoli and F. Minervo, L’Opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, p. 140, nos. S9-11 (another cast illustrated, p. 141).
C.W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Princeton, 1976, pp. 24 and 106 (another cast illustrated, pl. 89).
Achim Moeller Fine Art, ed., Late XIX and Early XX Century French Masters: The John C. Whitehead Collection, A Collection in Progress, New York, 1987, p. 48 (illustrated, p. 49).
J. Rewald, Degas’s Complete Sculpture, Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1990, pp. 124-125, no. XLIII (wax version and another cast illustrated).
A. Pingeot, Degas Sculptures, Paris, 1991, p. 157, no. 10 (another cast illustrated).
S. Campbell, "Degas, The Sculptures: A Catalogue Raisonné" in Apollo, vol. CXLII, no. 402, August 1995, p. 39 (another cast illustrated).
Achim Moeller Fine Art, ed., From Daumier to Matisse: Selections from the John C. Whitehead Collection, exh. cat., Achim Moeller Fine Art, New York, 2002, p. 6 (illustrated in situ).
S.G. Lindsay, D.S. Barbour and S.G. Sturman, Edgar Degas Sculpture, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2010, pp. 190-193, no. 28 (wax version illustrated in color, pp. 191-192).
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, The Sculpture of Degas, 1922.
Montclair, The Montclair Art Museum, Late XIX and Early XX Century French Masters: The John C. Whitehead Collection, April-June 1989, p. 31, no. 36 (illustrated, p. 2).
New York, Achim Moeller Fine Art, The Whitehead Collection: Late 19th and 20th Century French Masters: A Collection in Progress, April-May 1997, p. 33, no. 29 (illustrated in color, p. 32; illustrated in situ, p. 6).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

The three versions that Degas modeled of the Position de quatrième devant sur la jambe gauche–the present sculpture, Hébrard, no. 58, and nos. 5-6 (Rewald, nos. XLIII, XLIV and LV)–together with the seven grandes arabesques in various stages, and the two Danse espagnole figures, are the most elegantly formal and beautifully poised of his table-top sized dancers. These sculptures are studies in movement, presenting the dancer in mid-pose, as if frozen in a stop-action photograph. The grandes arabesques, leaning into a horizontal T-shape, possess a sublimely serene beauty. But among the fully upright dancers, with their visually beguiling contrapposto of all four limbs and engaging expression of gesture, the three dancers in the Position de quatrième deserve pride of place.
The elevated leg position, known variously as a mouvement à la hauteur, en haut, or en lair, is an important dance movement, as well as one practiced repeatedly in class exercises. “The pose relates to Degas’s many images of dancers performing grands battements or développés in the second position (to the side) at the barre and at center, but few in any medium represent a grand fourth position front,” Suzanne Glover Lindsay has written. “The stark drama of this straight, horizontal projection has no known counterpart in Degas’s two dimensional work” (Edgar Degas Sculptures, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2010, p. 189). It would have been impossible for any model to assume the position de quatrième for more than a moment, and Degas must have discovered early on the difficulty of integrating a solo dancer thus configured into the complex ensemble compositions that he favored in his paintings and pastels. This was a pose that could only have been conceived and realized as sculpture.
Degas was fascinated with the threshold in movement and balance that tested a dancer, beyond which she would be physically unable to contend. Similarly, in his three-dimensional art, he relished the challenge in giving form to the dancer’s striving and risk, which required him to impart to the sculpted figure optimum expressive effect, while at the same time dealing with the practical issue of investing it with sufficient balance to remain free-standing in space. Fundamentally, like the dancer herself, Degas needed to overcome the force of gravity.
For every one of the forty Degas sculptures related to the dance that exist today, many more never approached a satisfactory conclusion, or survived for very long in the artist's studio. The sculptor Paul Bartholomé described his friend Degas at work: “The fellow wants to do sculpture, but he doesn’t want to submit to the laws of that medium... When the arm goes beyond the sphere of equilibrium and threatens to fall, he reinforces it with a match! In this way he has lost some sculptures which were very beautiful in their movement. But he doesn’t care” (quoted in J. Rewald, Studies in Post-Impressionism, New York, 1986, p. 120).

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