Charcoal and pastel on paper. Stamped with the Degas vente stamp (Lugt 658) in red at the lower right. Inscribed with the Durand-Ruel stock numbers 9b1164 / 2566 in blue chalk on the verso. Watermark: L. BERVILLE.
242 x 319 mm. (9 ½ x 12 ½ in.)
Sold to a Private Collection.
PROVENANCE: The Atelier Degas, Paris, with the atelier stamp (Lugt 657) faintly stamped in red ink on the verso; The third Vente Degas, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 7-9 April 1919, part of lot 138 (138d: ‘Danseuse rajustant son collant’), bt. Durand-Ruel; Georges Durand-Ruel, Paris; By descent in the Durand-Ruel family until acquired by a private collector on 11 April 1935; Thence by descent to a private collection, France; acquired by a Private Collection in 2003.
LITERATURE: Lillian Browse, Degas Dancers, London, 1949, p.381, under no.130; Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge, Degas, London, 1988, illustrated p.180; Lillian Schacherl, Edgar Degas: Dancers and Nudes, Munich and New York, 1997, illustrated p.26; Jennifer R. Gross, ed., Edgar Degas: Defining the Modernist Edge, exhibition catalogue, New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, 2003, p.50, under no.13, note 7 (entry by Jill DeVonyar and Susan D. Greenberg).
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.
In most of Degas’ paintings and drawings of dancers it is not possible (nor, indeed, was it the artist’s intention) to identify the specific models. The names of a few of the dancers whom Degas befriended, such as Marie van Goethem, Josephine Gaugelin and Melina Darde, are known from inscriptions on some of his sketches. On the whole, however, Degas’ drawings, paintings and sculptures of ballet dancers were simply studies of pose and gesture, featuring an anonymous model.
The present sheet, clearly made on the spot, may be dated to the 1880’s. Degas’ drawing quickly captures the pose of a young dancer at rest, seated and adjusting her tights. A resting dancer in an identical pose is to be found in three paintings by Degas, where she serves as a counterpoint to the dancers who are in the midst of their exercises. These three canvases, each now in American museums, are part of a distinctive group of dance scenes with prominently horizontal, frieze-like compositions that have generally been dated between the late 1870’s and early 1890’s. They are The DancingLesson (La Leçon de Danse)of c.1880, in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts1; In a Rehearsal Room (Le Foyer de la Danse) in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.2, datable to c.1890-1892, and BalletRehearsal (La Salle de Danse) of c.1890 (fig.1) in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut3. Of these, the present drawing is particularly close to the pose of the seated dancer in both the New Haven and Washington paintings, with the bent left arm of the dancer in the drawing associating it more closely with the latter.
Degas worked on this series of horizontal paintings over more than a decade, and over this period seems to have made a number of drawings of individual dancers, which were used for different variants of the painted compositions. A number of drawings of a dancer in a similar pose are known, most of which are less highly-finished than the present sheet. Among these is a drawing in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which includes a separate study of the dancer’s left arm4, and another in the Nathan collection in Zurich, which shows a secondary study of both arms, and in which the dancer’s leg is slightly more elevated5.
Also related to the present sheet is a drawing in a private collection in Munich, which incorporates a sketch of the dancer’s left hand6, while two further studies for the figure were on the London art market in the 1970’s7. A nude study for the pose was on the art market in London in 19888, and a preparatory study for the two seated dancers in the Washington and New Haven paintings also shows both figures in the nude9. A sheet of studies of each of the dancer’s legs alone was sold at the third Vente Degas in April 191910.
The present sheet was one of four drawings of dancers, of identical dimensions, sold as one lot in the third Vente Degas in April 1919.
1. P.A. Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, Vol.III, pp.470-471, no.820; Jean Sutherland Boggs, et al, Degas, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Ottawa and New York, 1988-1989, pp.339-341, no.221; Jill DeVonyar and Richard Kendall, Degas and the Dance, exhibition catalogue, Detroit and Philadelphia, 2002-2003, p.152, pl.168; details illustrated on pp.1-3.
2. Lemoisne, ibid., pp.546-547, no.941; Boggs, et al., ibid., pp.510-511, no.305.
3. Lemoisne, op.cit., pp.640-641, no.1107; Boggs, et al., op.cit., p.510, fig.289; George T. M. Shackelford, Degas: The Dancers, exhibition catalogue, Washington, 1984, p.92, no.31; Gross, ed., op.cit., pp.48-50, no.13.
4. Browse, op.cit., p.382, no.130a, pl.130a; Ronald Pickvance, Degas 1879, exhibition catalogue, Edinburgh, 1979, p.25, no.31; Shackelford, ibid., p.139, no.34, illustrated p.92; Richard Thomson, The Private Degas, London, 1987, p.87, no.77, fig.115, where dated c.1880-1885. The drawing was lot 109d in the third Vente Degas in April 1919. Drawn in pencil and black chalk, heightened with white chalk, and squared for transfer, its measurements are 242 x 313 mm.
5. Jean Sutherland Boggs, Drawings by Degas, exhibition catalogue, Saint Louis and elsewhere, 1967, pp.186-187, no.122. Executed in charcoal and pastel, the drawing measures 307 x 389 mm.
6. Browse, op.cit., p.381, no.130, pl.130; Shackelford, op.cit., p.139, no.33, illustrated p.92; Schacherl, op.cit., illustrated p.59. The sheet measures 238 x 320 mm., and the paper bears the same watermark as the present sheet. The drawing, lot 218b in the second Vente Degas held in December 1918, was in the collection of Sabine Helms, Munich, in 1984.
7. Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 29 November 1972, lot 38 (third Vente Degas, 7-9 April 1919, lot 148b) and Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 30 March 1977, lot 185 (from the Nepveu-Degas collection). The first drawing measures 290 x 410 mm., and the second 305 x 230 mm.
8. Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 29 June 1988, lot 303. The drawing measures 446 x 227 mm., and was lot 160 in the fourth Vente Degas in July 1919.
9. Boggs, et al., op.cit., p.511, fig.290 (as location unknown). The drawing measures 340 x 470 mm. and was lot 248b in the third Vente Degas in April 1919. Another nude study of both seated dancers was lot 333b in the same sale.
10. Third Vente Degas, 7-8 April 1919, lot 81a. Further related studies of a dancer pulling on her tights include drawings sold at the second Vente Degas in December 1918 as lot 217b (with the dancer’s head looking down and to the right); the third Vente Degas in April 1919 as lot 112d (the dancer looking up and to the left), lot 148b (the dancer nude, with a separate study of her torso) and lot 371a (the figure drawn along horizontal and vertical axes); and the fourth Vente Degas in July 1919 as lot 270b (the figure nude).