EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
1 More
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
4 More
Property from the Estate of Sophie F. Danforth
EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)

Danseuse à la barre

EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917)
Danseuse à la barre
signed ‘Degas’ (upper left)
gouache, pastel and pencil on paper laid down on artist's mount
Sheet size: 7 x 8 7/8 in. (17.8 x 22.6 cm.)
Mount size: 11 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (28.4 x 32.1 cm.)
Executed in 1877
John Howard Whittemore, Connecticut.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (on consignment from the above, November 1935).
Ernest F. Kanzler, Detroit (acquired from the above, January 1936).
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 21 April 1936).
Grace Rainey Rogers, New York (acquired from the above, 12 May 1936).
Carroll Carstairs Gallery, New York (by October 1936).
Helen and Murray Snell Danforth, Providence, Rhode Island (acquired from the above, 1 November 1936, then by descent to the late owner).
G. Rivière, "L'exposition des impressionnistes" in L'Impressionniste, no. 2, 14 April 1877, p. 5.
L. Hautecœur, "La conception de la nature chez les peintres modernes" in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 78, no. 16, July-August 1936, p. 181 (illustrated, fig. 3).
P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, Paris, 1947, vol. III, p. 232, no. 421 (illustrated, p. 233).
J. Lassaigne and F. Minervino, Tout l’œuvre peint de Degas, Paris, 1974, p. 110, no. 498 (illustrated; dated 1876-1877).
(possibly) Paris, 6 rue le Peletier, 3e Exposition de Peinture, April 1877.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

A lithe ballerina stretches at the barre. Her left foot is planted firmly on the ground and she reaches effortlessly with her right arm towards her right foot, which is propped upon a long wooden beam affixed to the wall of a dance studio. The dancer is dressed in her professional costume: a gossamer white tutu affixed at the waist with a thick blue ribbon, pale tights, and silk pointe shoes. This athletic gesture is the subject of Edgar Degas’s Danseuse à la barre, an exquisite pastel which is believed to be among the works the artist exhibited at the third Impressionist exhibition in April 1877, and which has belonged to the same family collection since 1936.
Degas submitted a total of twenty-five works of various media to the third Impressionist exhibition—second in number only to Claude Monet, who showed thirty canvases that year. This installation, the first in which the artists self-consciously adopted the name of “Impressionists,” featured a number of monumental, large-scale paintings by Degas’s colleagues, including Gustave Caillebotte’s Rue de Paris: Temps de plume (Art Institute of Chicago); Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and Monet’s iconic Gare Saint-Lazare series. In contrast, Degas demonstrated his own willingness to experiment with different media and to produce daring masterpieces on a more intimate scale. His oil paintings, pastels and monotype prints filled the final gallery of the exhibition, which was staged on the second floor of an apartment building at 6 rue le Peletier. This building was situated just off the boulevard Haussmann, across the street from the gallery of Paul Durand-Ruel, who had hosted the second Impressionist exhibition the previous year.
The apartment-turned-exhibition space at 6 rue le Peletier was also located a ten minute walk from the Palais Garnier, where the Paris Opera Ballet began practicing and performing in 1875. As a subscriber to the ballet, Degas was familiar with the newly constructed opera house. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, he frequently depicted its denizens—working class dancers, trained musicians and the upper-bourgeois audience members—in classes, rehearsals, waiting in the wings, performing on stage or watching from the theater boxes. For Degas, the opera house was a microcosm of modernity, rife with colorful spectacles and social clashes. Despite his careful study of the ballet, Degas’s paintings and pastels of this subject combined both reality and fantasy. While rooted in close observation of ballerinas at work, his fully-realized pictures were often based on preliminary sketches of individual figures, who he subsequently repositioned, rearranged and reimagined in new settings.
In the present pastel, Degas assumes an unusual perspective of the dancer: he observes her from behind and from an oblique angle. This disorienting vantage point emphasizes the agility of the dancer’s body as she stretches her leg muscles; she appears to be folded nearly in half. Yet this angle also produces a strange compositional effect: the floor of the rehearsal studio dominates nearly half of the sheet, while the figure occupies only the upper left corner. Degas produced a similarly flattened, skewed space in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Danseuses à la barre (Lemoisne, no. 408), an oil mixed with turpentine on canvas that depicts two dancers stretching their legs in opposite directions in the same canary-yellow room. The stretching figures in the Metropolitan canvas derive from yet another related oil study on green paper, now in the British Museum. As this group demonstrates, Degas revisited the same motifs in different media, exploring the formal, spatial and anatomical implications of various postures over and over again.
In 1877, art critics reacted strongly to Degas’s work. One journalist wrote in La Petite République Française, “Degas is definitely the most original artist of the constellation” (quoted in The New Painting: Impressionism, 1874-1886, exh. cat., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986, p. 217). Roger Ballu of La Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité applauded Degas’s depictions of ballerinas in particular: “His studies of Danseuses assert a rare and original talent... how lively this artist is in his handling of color!” (ibid.). A critic of Le Gaulois, Léon de Lora, noted Degas’s proclivity for concealing crucial details, such as the faces of his subjects: “The movements of his little figures are piquant and accurate, and his color is brilliant…But do not ask Degas for anything but approximations. He cares only for the pose, the contour enveloping his figures, their clothing, for such things and nothing else. Do you want to look at their features? Degas forbids it” (ibid., p. 216). Danseuse à la barre exemplifies Degas’s widely-praised affinity for color and contour, as well as his more controversial predilection for strange and unexpected angles—the very qualities that made him a master of modern art.

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