Grace in Motion: The Masterpieces of Edgar Degas
The French artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is most well known for his vivid and intimate paintings, pastels, and sculptures of ballerinas and dancers. Degas was fascinated by the world of ballet and immersed himself in depicting the daily lives of young ballet dancers. Over the course of his prolific career he created over 1,500 works focused on dancers.
Some of Degas' most renowned ballet masterpieces include:
This pastel stands out for its ethereal pink glow enveloping three ballerinas. The proximity of their heads allows the viewer to imagine their casual conversations. Degas excelled at depicting not just figures in motion, but the social conditions of these young dancers, who often lived in poverty despite the elegant performances they gave. The dark lines surrounding the pale flesh create an almost chiaroscuro effect.
This striking pastel stands out for its brilliant blue hue enveloping three dancers. Degas utilized new pigments developed in the late 19th century to create dazzling color effects. The central figure extends her arms mimicking wings, giving her an almost ethereal presence.
Presenting a skewed view of a dance studio, faceless dancers practice at barres while a violinist plays and the dance master asserts his domineering authority. Degas perfectly captures the strained muscles and extreme poses of the novice dancers.
Depicting a solo dancer mid-performance bathed in yellow stage lighting, this pastel is a testament to Degas' mastery of capturing movement. The dancer's costume references the classical world, which fascinated Degas.
The dancer's extreme off-balance pose epitomizes Degas' ability to capture complex physicality and movement. By focusing closely on the figure, attention centers on her muscular strength and composure.
Degas spent extensive time in dance studios studying and sketching the ballerinas. His contemporary painter Georges Jeanniot wrote that Degas "was not interested in the ballet for its own sake. He hated stage performances, but was attracted by the rehearsals, the lessons, the classes... it was the work, the effort, that struck his imagination.” Degas was a true pioneer not only for his unromanticized, intimate views of the grueling world of ballet, but for his bold compositions and masterful use of color that ushered in modern art.