Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement – New London Exhibition

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement - Website Logo

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement - The Rehearsal

The Rehearsal c 1874

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement is a new exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts running to December 11.

In the museum’s words the exhibition ‘focuses on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance’. The exhibition sets out to trace the development of the French artist’s ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years. (the first decades of the 20th Century).

A video on their website explains further what is hoped for the exhibition. Its presenter and co-curator Ann Dumas describes a perception of Degas as a ‘chocolate box artist’. What is usually implied by that is that the artist, or the art at least, is saccharine and sentimental – though Monet now is a staple of them and their kin the calendar – how many decades before the common conservative palette blinks not an eye at a Kandinsky or a Pollack on a chocolate box?! Conservatism is always behind liberalism – it used to be centuries in its footsteps now with the faster flow of freedom and information merely decades behind.

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement Women Dancing

Edweard Muybridge Women Dancing 1884-6

The exhibition she explains sets out to challenge that perception and to ask why his fascination with the dance. Their answer that he was obsessed with exploring the human figure in movement – both in context of the contemporary photography and the birth of the moving image in film with fellow Frenchmen the Lumière Brothers and of his own drawings, paintings and sculptures.

And then to the particular question, if an interest in the human body in movement why the ballet dancer and not a sporting figure for example. Their answer that he lived in the heart of Paris and ballet and opera were accessible to him and that ballet movement in particular was of a very sophisticated and complex movement.

It should be noted that he painted race-horses too though over half his paintings were of dancers.

He was called a proto-Impressionist – but rejected this describing himself as a realist.

For myself I have never considered Degas sentimental despite misappropriation by the nostalgia industry and if I should be in London in the coming months I will be making a bee-line to see this RAA exhibition.