EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
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EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Danseuse attachant son chausson

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Danseuse attachant son chausson
signed 'Degas' (lower left)
pastel on buff paper
18 1⁄2 x 16 7⁄8 in. (47.5 x 42.9 cm.)
Executed in 1887
Boussod, Valadon & Cie., Paris.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry O. Havemeyer, New York (acquired from the above, before 1907).
Electra Havemeyer Webb, New York (by descent from the above, 1929).
Electra Webb Bostwick, New York (by descent from the above, 1960).
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 25 April 1978).
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1981).
Thomas Gibson Fine Art, London (acquired from the above, 13 March 1981).
Juan Alvarez de Toledo, New York (acquired from the above, 24 March 1982); sale, Christie’s, New York, 12 November 1985, lot 22.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 15 November 1985.
Manzi-Joyant et Cie., ed., Vingt dessins de Degas, Paris, 1897, no. 16 (illustrated in color).
P. Lafond, Degas, Paris, 1919, vol. II, p. 75 (titled Danseuse assise sur une banquette).
H.O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art, Portland, Maine, 1931, p. 380 (titled Ballet Girl).
P.-A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, New York, 1946, vol. III, p. 532, no. 913 (illustrated, p. 533).
L. Browse, Degas Dancers, London, 1949, p. 378, no. 119 (illustrated; titled Danseuse attachant ses rubans and dated circa 1880).
F. Weitzenhoffer, The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America, New York, 1986, p. 130 (illustrated in color, p. 145, pl. 88).
R. Gordon and A. Forge, Degas, New York, 1988, p. 197 (illustrated in color; dated circa 1880-1885).
J. Heilpern, “The Bass Reserve” in Vogue, December 1988, p. 345 (illustrated in color in situ in Mrs. Bass's home).
L. Schacherl, Edgar Degas: Dancers and Nudes, New York, 1997, p. 15 (illustrated in color).
New York, The Grolier Club, Prints, Drawings and Bronzes by Degas, January-February 1922, p. 6, no. 33 (titled Danseuse assise rajustant sa chaussure).
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Edgar Degas, November-December 1978, no. 42 (illustrated in color).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Degas: The Dancers, November 1984-March 1985, pp. 93-94 and 141, no. 39 (illustrated in color, p. 96; dated circa 1880-1885).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection, March-June 1993, p. 333, no. 233 (illustrated, p. 332).
Poughkeepsie, Vassar College, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Refining the Imagination: Tradition, Collecting, and the Vassar Education, April-September 1999, p. 150, no. 58 (illustrated in color, p. 151; dated circa 1880-1885).

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Alive with color, light, and vivid texture, Edgar Degas’s Danseuse attachant son chausson of 1887 captures a dancer in a moment of repose, as she bends down to tie the ribbon on her ballet slipper. With her feet turned out, and tutu and sash thrown upwards in spectacular relief to create a dazzling halo around her, the dancer pictured in this pose was one of Degas’s favorite and most famous views, not only challenging him to display his artistic virtuosity through the depiction of a foreshortened figure, but allowing him to indulge in splendid contrasts of light and form. Relishing the expressive effects of pastel, his favored medium at the time that he created this magnificent dancer in the late 1880s, Degas has portrayed the dancer with long, strident strokes of color and frenetic line, enlisting the paper ground as an active formal component of the tightly cropped composition. As a result, this work, formerly in the legendary Havemeyer family collection, is infused with an incredible sense of life; she is momentarily stationary, yet brims with suspenseful energy, poised at any moment to ascend upright once more and leap back into her performance.
In the late 1870s and throughout the 1880s, Degas avidly pursued the pose seen in Danseuse attachant son chausson, capturing dancers alone, as well as integrating them into his multi-figural dancer compositions. The present work is among the finest of a multitude of drawings and pastels that focuses on the single dancer reaching down in this position, each of which explores this pose from a slightly different angle or ever so slightly shifting view point (other examples include Lemoisne, nos. 530, 531, 600, 826, 826bis, 904 and 908).
Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge have described this distinctive, defining motif: “It represented the extreme opposite of the weightlessness and grace of the dancer in action. It is earth-bound; the head hangs, evoking the Baudelairian image of the white bird grounded. This aspect of the pose gave rise to pastels such as Danseuses au Foyer (Lemoisne, no. 530; Private collection), in which we are brought close to the dancer’s exhaustion. In L’Attente (Lemoisne, no. 698; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) the same pose is drawn into a narrative and expresses boredom as the dancer sits waiting beside her mother in black street clothes. The pose shows the figure of the dancer in a highly unfigure-like aspect. Each drawing that he made of it reminds us of his quest for unusual viewpoints, his passion for the oblique. It is as though discovering the dancer at rest like this, unawares, he is able to claim a tighter grip on her, discovering her physical presence piece by piece in an unfamiliar order, the drawing aestheticized by being somehow out of step with familiar figuration” (Degas, New York, 1988, pp. 187-188).
By the time that Degas created Danseuse attachant son chausson, his reputation as, “the painter of dancers,” was firmly secured. While throughout the 1870s his Impressionist contemporaries, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and to a certain extent, Édouard Manet, had been obsessed with sunlight, seeking to capture its effects on the outside world around them, Degas found infinite artistic potential in the shadowy corners of the much revered and frequented Paris Opéra, its stage wings, dressing rooms, and above all, the rehearsal studios. Scenes illuminated by gaslight, rather than sunlight, were his preoccupation.
Degas quickly realized that the ballet offered him a subject that could set him apart from the rest of the avant-garde, as well as facilitating a complete immersion in his primary love: the depiction of the human form. By the mid-1870s, Degas had turned away from solely depicting the polished, perfected idealism of the final performances, instead capturing dancers by day, practising in the rehearsal rooms of the venerated institution. This alternate realm offered Degas an unprecedented and infinite range of figures enacting myriad poses: both balletic, as the dancers rehearsed and performed their steps, and at ease, as they stretched, waited, rested, pulled at their tights or sashes, or tied their slippers.
Yet, access to these rooms was strictly regulated, reserved for an elite and privileged few. While Degas counted a number of these wealthy, well-connected abonnés among his closest friends, it would not be until the end of the 1880s that he was finally granted the unrestricted access to the backstage realm of the Opéra that he had so desired. As a result, more frequently he asked dancers to come to his studio and dance and pose for him. In this haloed sanctum, Degas made myriad drawings and studies in a variety of media, immersing himself in his quest to capture the human figure in movement. “In order to appreciate fully the artist’s working methods,” George Shackelford has described, “we should envision him in the studio, surrounded by hundreds of drawings” (Degas, the dancers, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1984, p. 62). Having amassed a large corpus of poses, Degas subsequently integrated these individual figures into larger, more populated compositions, relishing the endless variations available to him as his imagination took over and he created his symphonic arrangements of dancers.
Degas became captivated by one such pose, that of the dancer reaching over to tie the ribbon of her ballet slipper, or clasp her ankle, as in Danseuse attachant son chausson. “Rarely,” Shackelford wrote, “can the repetition and variation of a single motif be better demonstrated than in the pose of the seated dancer leaning forward to adjust her slipper” (ibid., p. 93). While it was the exaggerated compression of the figure in this pose that clearly attracted Degas—the body almost turned in on itself, crouched over, dramatically descendent—it also allowed for a complete indulgence in the myriad textures of the dancers’ costumes. The net tutu effervesces around the dancer of the present work, petal-like in its fanned display of diaphanous layers. The sash—a feature Degas was so engrossed by that he made a contemporaneous pastel study of this ornate bow (1887, Lemoisne, no. 908bis; Musée d’Orsay, Paris)—together with her skirt contrasts with the soft, silky, matte texture of the ballerina’s silk tights. Out of this vaporous froth of textures, the skin of her back glows, bathed in light, warm and radiant amid the rest of the composition.
Though seemingly an image of a dancer caught unawares in an instinctive moment of pause, the protagonist of the present pastel remains in a performative stance. Her legs are turned out, her feet at right angles in a pose that shows the relentless discipline of her profession. Even in such moments of downtime or rest, as Lillian Browse noted, a young dancer would, “almost subconsciously, find herself ‘turning out’ her thighs, stretching her instep, forcing her pointes or pulling back her shoulders” (Degas Dancers, London, 1949, p. 59). So attuned was Degas to the litany of movements, that these highly nuanced and idiosyncratic details are faithfully captured in every depiction of dancers, making these works, “as true in fact as they are in spirit to the art he has chosen to depict” (ibid., p. 60).
Yet, this motif was not solely the result of a happened upon moment in the rehearsal rooms or Degas’s studio. As with so much of the artist’s oeuvre, this pose also finds its genesis in a work of the past, in particular, it has been suggested, the Louvre’s Hermes Fastening his Sandal, a Roman marble that he would have been deeply familiar with, having haunted the museum’s galleries since his youth. Degas rarely made direct references or quotations to the masterpieces of antiquity that he so revered, yet, as Leïla Jarbouai has noted recently, “Other familiar poses from ‘classics’ of ancient sculpture resurface, completely transformed, in the countless dancers attaching their slippers or massaging their ankles… it is sometimes hard to believe that this is merely coincidence, so similar to the ancient statue is the twist of the body drawn by Degas” (“The Genetics of Dance Gestures in Degas’s Work” in H. Loyrette, Degas at the Opéra, exh. cat., Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 2019, p. 43).
This pose—at once radical and banal, graceful and monumental, stationary yet expectant with potential movement—was the perfect addition not only to a number of the artist’s contemporaneous scenes of dancers waiting or resting, but also to the radical series of “frieze” compositions, or tableaux en long, as he called them, that Degas began in 1879 and continued through the subsequent two decades. Rendered on an elongated, horizontal format, in these ballet scenes Degas pictured a coterie of dancers moving in a rhythmic pattern of rise and fall across the canvas, arranged like musical notes on a score. The image of a dancer bending over appears in different guises and from various viewpoints in a number of these works, most notably in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Danseuses au foyer (La Contrebasse), painted in 1887, the same year as the present work (Lemoisne, no. 905), as well as Le foyer de la danse of 1888 (Lemoisne, no. 941; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

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