Dancer (Préparation en dedans), c.1885

by Edgar Degas

P.O.A.

DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 13.25 x 9 inches (33.66 x 22.86 cm)
SIGNATURE: Inscribed (upper right), stamped (lower left), inscribed (verso)
MEDIUM: Charcoal on paper

The dancer is preparing for a movement known as a rond de jambe à terre, ‘in which one leg describes a semicircle on the floor. “En dedans” specifies that the movement is from front to back…“Préparation” is the movement leading to (preparing for) the “rond de jambe” and it is not normally followed by “en dedans” as Degas writes it; the “en dedans” belongs to the “rond de jambe”.

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    Catalogue No: 6456 Categories: , Tags: , , ,

    Here Edgar Degas portrays this young woman as she builds up momentum in order to galvanise a turn or jump that will spin her around and away from us towards the right, a series of events lasting just a few seconds. Practical considerations, therefore, place this drawing in an even more extreme category than others, as the definitively unstable position in Dancer could not have been maintained artificially for the benefit of the artist and was not easily reconstituted at will.

    Yet as multiple contours around legs and torso reveal, the model appears to have repeated the action for Degas a number of times, while he struggled to draw the virtually un-drawable. The extremity of tasks he now set himself challenged the foundation of Degas’s draughtsmanship.

    Degas’ charcoal drawings of single dancers engaged in ballet exercises often show signs of ‘pentimento’, as the artist tried to quickly capture the position of a leg or arm in motion, and may be counted among his most immediate and spontaneous drawings. Many of these drawings also have annotations in the artist’s hand.

    Provenance

    The Atelier Degas, Paris, with the atelier stamp (Lugt 657) stamped on the verso;
    The third Vente Degas, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 7-9 April 1919, part of lot 102, sold with three other drawings for 1,450 francs;
    Paul Cassirer, Berlin;
    Acquired by a private collector in the 1920s
    Thence by descent to a private collection, Germany;
    Private Collection, United Kingdom

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    Biography

    About half of Degas’ total oeuvre are ballet subjects, a theme he first began to treat regularly in the early 1870’s, and which he continued to study in hundreds of paintings, drawings, pastels, sculptures, prints and photographs right up until the very end of his long career. In his drawings of dancers, Degas was to develop a huge repertoire of poses, which he used and reused in his paintings and sculptures. These drawings were made both behind the scenes at the Opéra itself and, more frequently, from the model posed in his studio. He appears to have been much less interested in the actual performances than in the dancers themselves, who are often portrayed at rest or exercising behind the scenes. Degas seems to have had a natural affection for these little dancers, known as the ballet ‘rats’; girls from poor families who entered the Opéra at the ages of seven or eight and spent ten or more years in classes, training for the corps de ballet. He studied and drew their long and arduous hours of practice, and seems to have sympathized with them and admired their dedication.

     

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