Friday, 25 November 2011

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement... the Royal Academy has only a few weeks left of its run, so this is the last chance for any Edgar Degas or ballet fans to see it!

As you enter the exhibition there are 3 enchanting projections of the silhouette of one of Degas' dancer sculptures. These are a recreation of when Degas was said to have shown the painter Walter Sickert a wax sculpture he was working on by shining a light on it whilst slowly turning the figure around.

As the subtitle of the exhibition suggests the Royal Academy expresses how Degas attempted to capture his ballet dancers in motion. One such example of this simple and effective capture of movement is Study of Legs (1873) (below).

Although Degas was evidently an accomplished painter, I prefer his chalk pastel observations, whether they are sketches (above) or complete works (below).

Indeed, many consider him one of the masters of the medium. Above is The Red Ballet Skirts (1895-1901). This beautiful artwork has the softness you would expect from pastel, yet it has enough detail and contrast to not lose its shape or form when viewed from distance. Also the fact that Degas used tracing paper in this work, not a surface that is ideal for chalk pastels, just expresses how much he had mastered the medium.

Another medium that Degas had an appropriate interest in was the pioneering work that was being carried out at the time in both photographing and studying movement and then the development of the moving image itself. The English photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge and the French early film-makers the Lumi√®re brothers (Auguste and Louis) arguably inspired Degas to then even pick up a camera himself. Rare existing evidence of this is in Dancer Adjusting Her Shoulder Strap (1895-6) (below), one of 3 of Degas photos on display.


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