Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Dancer with a Bouquet Curtseying on Stage, 1878, pastel on wove paper mounted on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Bequest of Isaac de Camondo. NGA's audio of this work concentrates on Degas's components of the composition rather than the content and characters.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Dance Examination, 1880, pastel on paper, Lent by the Denver Art Museum. The audio explains that the young dancers are preparing for one of two dance examination held yearly, one test based on skills, and the other, self promotion. The second older woman upper right is hard to make out, but the two women are likely the mothers who help their daughters tighten laces, pull up tights, and make sure they don't have baggy knees! "The bane of every dancer's existence!" exclaims a dancer on the audio.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Portrait of Friends, on the Stage (also known as Portrait of Ludovic Halevy and Albert Boulanger-Cave), 1879, pastel on paper, Musee d'Orsay, Paris. Gift of Florence Nouffland. Halevy, on the left, was an author and playwright, chatting here with his friend, both wearing the red Legion of Honor ribbon and dressed in the manner of wealthy gentlemen of the day. Listen to the audio.
The audio for Robert le Diable is wonderful with quotes from NGA Director Kaywin Feldman, Kimberly Jones, the curator, and Julie Kent, artistic director of the Washington Ballet. After hearing them, I yearn to see this again in person and if that is not possible, who will play the opera next? It's about Robert, the son of the devil, lured to the "dark side" by nuns who rise from the dead in a ghostly dance. Ms. Kent says dancers on stage experience the wonder and thrill of the orchestra coming into the body. Dancers "definitely respond to the orchestra. It's the most beautiful thing." Degas rarely painted scenes from operas.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Portrait of Eugénie Fiocre a propos of the Ballet “La Source,” 1867–1868, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum. Gift of James H. Post, A. Augustus Healy, and John T. Underwood. The audio reveals this scene is a rehearsal of the ballet which featured a live horse, a real waterfall, rocks, and plants! The two tiny pink ballet shoes between the horse's legs show the connection to dancing. The famous dancer, Eugenie Fiocre, occupies the center piece in blue, and the audio claims the two other women are "handmaidens," but they look like Ms. Fiocre: three renditions of the same person, one on the right, as she rubs her feet, tired from dancing, and the other, at far left, whose mind escapes the stage for another world. Ms. Feldman calls this work "a very weird hybrid," an understatement. I'd say it's 100+years ahead of its time, an anomaly juxtaposed with nature, performance, and dreamlike imagery. It was Degas's first work of dance.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Blue Dancers, 1893-1896, oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alpert Charpentier. An art blog says this is the only time Degas used cool colors to depict a ballerina, one here in motion, shown in different poses. Arthive says Degas made this as his eyesight was failing, and he gave up painting completely in 1904 and turned to sculpture by touch. (The catalog index is so hard to use, I cannot find references to this there, other than the color illustration.)
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (with admirer), 1878-1881, National Gallery of Art. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon /Photo by Patricia Leslie
One of the most famous sculptures in the world modeled after "Marie" who was expelled from her dance school after missing too many classes, according to the audio. When The Little Dancer first made it to the art stage, she was called "depraved" "bestial," and the model, "most frightfully hideous" among other descriptions. (Also, "disturbing," "intimidating," "ugly," a sculpture which "Countess Louise" said "attracted a crowd of fools.") Degas was also criticized because he left the dancer in a "cage," or "jar," just like an animal. No doubt, she was unhappy!
The sculptor eschewed marble for actual hair held with a ribbon, real ballet slippers, and a tutu, possibly "intended for ignorant or gullible people" another critic moans in the catalog.
Read more about her there which also calls this "Degas's crowning achievement in sculpture" which was "the only[Degas] sculpture exhibited in his lifetime" and "a work of art that was simply too real for most of his contemporaries." The "great scandal" The Little Dancer caused "deterred Degas from ever exhibiting his sculptures again," Julia Fiore wrote for Artsy in 2018. (Is there a "Friends of The Little Dancer"? )
At the National Gallery of Art with The Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas/Photo by Patricia Leslie
I come before you to share some of the paintings I liked the most at this huge show, and you may see more at the website, or by listening to the audio presentations for 21 of the works, and/or see them in the catalog* (or now! This just in: At the National Gallery of Art!)
Alas! The exhibition was only open a few days after March 1 before coronavirus closed Gallery doors.
Waltzing (sorry, I could not resist) through the galleries of many (about 100!) paintings, prints, monographs and more, I was practically lifted backstage to join the dancers while they rehearsed, tightened up, chatted and were the objects of desire of nearby men in black.
Those creatures Degas often portrayed in half figures lurking, lurking, lurking, omnipresent in side scenes with the ballerinas poised to dance and move. (See the explanation in Ms. Fiore's article, one of several which claimed that wealthy men turned the Paris Opera into a brothel.)
Degas's works of dancers in paintings, monotypes, and drawings number more than 1,500, and at times, they seemed to all be present, so large is the show spread over eight galleries.
The Washington Post quotes Director Feldman that the West Building will open in mid-July for timed entry for only 500. (Update: NGA will open July 20 for half-hour timed passes. See update below and how to obtain entry. The East Building will remain closed for renovation, and the Sculpture Garden is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.)
Please, National Gallery of Art: Extend this show! (Update: Prayers answered! Show extended! Thank you, NGA, sponsors, lenders, and all who made this happen. Please read below on *timed-entry passes.)
Gallery friends and fans are indebted to BP America, Adrienne Arsht, Jacqueline B. Mars, the Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art, and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities for making the exhibition possible.
What: Degas at the Opéra
When: Now through October 12, 2020; open daily with timed-entry passes* 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Washington, D.C.
*To request a timed entry pass (face covering and SD required): Call (202) 842-6997 between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Admission charge: None
Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza
For more information: 202-737-4215
*Catalog: Degas at the Opéra, 320 pages, 300 color illustrations, $49.95