Degas and his obsession with dance opens At Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts are about to stage an important exhibition focusing on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement and its application to the art of ballet and dance. Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement is an exhibition which traces the development of the artist’s ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years. The exhibition will be the first to present Degas’s progressive engagement with the figure in movement in the context of parallel advances in photography and early film; indeed, the artist was keenly aware of these technological developments and often directly involved with them. The exhibition will comprise around 85 paintings, sculptures, pastels, drawings, prints and photographs by Degas, as well as photographs by his contemporaries and examples of early film. It will bring together selected material from public institutions and private collections in Europe and North America including both
celebrated and little-known works by Degas. Highlights of the exhibition will include such masterpieces as the celebrated sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1880-81, cast. c.1922, Tate, London), which will be displayed with a group of
outstanding preparatory drawings that together show the artist tracking around his subject like a cinematic eye; Dancer Posing for a Photograph (1875, Pushkin State Museum of Art, Moscow); Dancer on Pointe (c. 1877-78, Private collection); The Dance Lesson (c. 1879, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC); Dancers in a Rehearsal Room with a Double Bass (c. 1882-85, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and Three Dancers (c. 1903, Beyeler Foundation, Basel).
Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement will explore the fascinating links between Degas’s highly original way of viewing and recording the dance and the inventive experiments being made at the same time in photography by Jules-Etienne Marey and Eadweard Muybridge and in film-making by such pioneers as the Lumière brothers. By presenting the artist in this context, the exhibition will demonstrate that Degas was far more than merely the creator of beautiful images of the ballet, but
instead a modern, radical artist who thought profoundly about visual problems and was fully attuned to the technological developments of his time. Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas was born in Paris in 1834. His father was a banker from a Neapolitan
family and his mother a French Créole from New Orleans. After studying briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Degas travelled in Italy, largely teaching himself by copying works of art in
museums and churches. From 1865 to 1870 he regularly submitted large historical compositions to the Salon, but in around 1870 he began to concentrate on subjects from modern life, including the dance. A leader of the Impressionists, Degas exhibited regularly at their group exhibitions. Apart from the dance, racehorses and bathing women were his principal subjects. Increasing blindness forced Degas to give up working in around 1912. He died in Montmartre in 1917.
Degas was born in Paris, France, the eldest of five children of Célestine Musson De Gas and Augustin De Gas, a banker. The family was moderately wealthy. His mother died when Degas was thirteen, after which his father and grandfather were the main influences on his early life. At age eleven, Degas (in adulthood he abandoned the more pretentious spelling of the family name) began his schooling with enrollment in the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, graduating in 1853 with a baccalauréat in literature.Degas had shifted from his initial forays into history painting to an original observation of contemporary life. Racecourse scenes provided an opportunity to depict horses and their riders in a modern context. He began to paint women at work, milliners and laundresses. Mlle. Fiocre in the Ballet La Source, exhibited in the Salon of 1868, was his first major work to introduce a subject with which he would become especially identified, dancers.
In many subsequent paintings dancers were shown backstage or in rehearsal, emphasizing their status as professionals doing a job. From 1870 Degas increasingly painted ballet subjects, partly because they sold well and provided him with needed income after his brother’s debts had left the family bankrupt. Degas began to paint café life as well, in works such as L’Absinthe and Singer with a Glove. His paintings often hinted at narrative content in a way that was highly ambiguous; for example, Interior (which has also been called The Rape) has presented a conundrum to art historians in
Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement has been curated by Richard Kendall, Curator at Large,
The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, USA; Jill DeVonyar, independent curator; and Ann Dumas,
Exhibition Curator, Royal Academy of Arts.
Woody Kerr, Vice Chairman of EMEA, BNY Mellon said, “With Degas and the Ballet, the Royal
Academy continues to demonstrate a high level of scholarship and inventiveness in bringing top
quality art to London. Despite the challenging environment for arts funding in the UK, this
exhibition will demonstrate why London continues to be a global leader in artistic education. BNY
Mellon is very proud to be supporting the RA and this remarkable body of work.”
ABOUT BNY MELLON
BNY Mellon is a global financial services company focused on helping clients manage and service
their financial assets, operating in 36 countries and serving more than 100 markets. BNY Mellon is
a leading provider of financial services for institutions, corporations and high-net-worth individuals,
offering superior investment management and investment services through a worldwide client-
focused team. It has $25.5 trillion in assets under custody and administration and $1.2 trillion in
assets under management, services $11.9 trillion in outstanding debt and processes global
payments averaging $1.7 trillion per day. BNY Mellon is the corporate brand of The Bank of New
York Mellon Corporation (NYSE: BK).
Throughout our 226 year history, BNY Mellon has supported non-profit organisations addressing
cultural awareness and access, economic vitality, education and urgent human needs. We are
proud to have worked with many of the world’s leading art, cultural and philanthropic institutions,
and to have supported them with charitable investment, sponsorships and through the volunteer
efforts of our employees.
Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement
The Exhibition runs from 17 September – 11 December Visit the Exhibition