DEUX DANSEUSES (TWO DANCERS)
charcoal and pastel on paper,
17 7⁄8x 23 1⁄2inches, (14 3⁄4x 22 7⁄8inches, sight),
Lionello Venturi, Paris; Riccardo Gualino, Turin (acquired from the above
in 1935); Acquired from the above by the present owner from
Sotheby's, London, June 23, 2011, lot196; Private Collection, New York.
Note: This work will be included in the forthcoming
Catalogue Raisonné being compiled by Brame andLorenceau.
A key figure in French Impressionism, Edgar Degas’ work has become universally recognizable. Throughout his career, his favorite subject was women at their toilette and ballet dancers. A skilled draftsman, Degas was able to capture fleeting, everyday moments. He is one of the fewImpressionists who bridged the gap to modernism influencing artists including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
Degas was born in Paris in 1834 just south of Montmartre, a neighborhood he would live and work in throughout his entire career. His parents encouraged his interest in painting, and in 1855 he entered the École des Beaux Arts. Degas abruptly left the École a year later to embark on a three-year period of travel and study in Italy. He immersed himself in the arts from antiquity to the Renaissance. His sketchbooks from this early period indicate his mastery as a draftsman from the beginning.
His initial attempts to be accepted into the Paris Salon were met with indifference. He met ÉdouardManet in 1862, and the two shared an opposition to the established and the canonical subjects such as religious and historical painting. In 1868, he submitted a painting of a ballerina to the Salon which would be among his last paintings exhibited there. By 1870, he was aligning himself with avant-garde artists who we would later come to recognize as the Impressionists, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-AugusteRenoir and Claude Monet.
Despite his lukewarm reception at the Salon in the 1860s, Degas’ career thrived in the 1870s. It was during this period that he began painting his famous ballet dancers. He captured the beauty and intrigue of the ballet by depicting casual moments backstage or during rehearsals. Between 1874-1886 he exhibited in the eight Impressionist exhibitions, so titled after critics dubbed the group “the Impressionists” in 1877.
Unlike his contemporaries, Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro, Degas did not focus on the landscape. He was fascinated with Parisian life and society. His paintings were praised for their firm line, a quality attributed to the classical training and study of the Old Masters.
The quality of line, and sureness of hand evident in his paintings is even more apparent in his drawings and works on paper. In Deux Danseuses, the viewer gets an almost voyeuristic sense of looking at two female dancers during their rehearsal. Degas’ characteristic bird’s eye perspective almost gives the sense of looking down on the scene from the opera box. Even in a quick sketch, the artist conveys their soft faces, and the beauty of their gestures that guide the viewer’s eye in a sweeping upward motion.