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Paris 1834-1917 Paris

Etude de danseuse

Etude de danseuse

Inscribed, upper center, menton reflêté; also marked with studio stamp, verso, ATELIER ED. DEGAS (Lugt 657), and inscribed with blue crayon, Ph 721/2354

Black chalk heightened with white chalk, traces of red chalk on blue paper

18 x 11 ⅜ inches

457 x 290 mm


Studio of the artist; by descent to

Mademoiselle Jeanne Fèvre, the artist’s niece (her sale:  Paris, Galerie Charpentier, June 12, 1934, lot 97, as Etude de tête, de bras et de mains)

Léon-Louis Weill (1909-1980), Paris

Thence by descent

Drawn circa 1875-85

Nearly half of Degas’s artistic production was devoted to the ballet. From 1870 through the early years of the twentieth century, he spent hours at the Paris Opéra, at neighboring music halls and theatres, or in his studio, continually sketching dancers in movement. During these nearly 40 years he compiled a compendium of poses, gestures, and attitudes which he would incorporate in his paintings, pastels, prints, and sculptures exhibited in either the Impressionist Exhibitions from 1874 through 1886 or with dealers in Paris and London. These sketches were either drawn from life or based on photos that either he took or that were made available to him by friends like Daniel Halévy. He was more intent on capturing the pure act of dancing than in depicting the actual production itself, often portraying a ballerina taking a lesson within a group of dancers, adjusting her costume, or performing formal movements within ballet’s large repertory of formal positions. Degas admired these young ‘rats de l’Opéra,’ sometimes as young as 7 or 8 years old and always drew them with great humility, viscerally understanding the hours if not years of discipline that went into their training. As the years passed, his style went from a classically trained artist whose narrative approach was easily recognizable to a master craftsman employing a kaleidoscope of color and thick charcoal to determine the ephemeral movement of his subjects.

Although our drawing has not yet been directly linked to a specific composition, the style and media of black and white chalk would allow us to date it to the late 1870s or early 1880s, years during which he had completed numerous paintings and pastels drawn from the Opéra corps de ballet and during which he was interested in the idiosyncrasies of movement.¹ In our drawing a standing dancer “au repos” seen in profile, her left arm extended, is gently adjusting her costume with her right hand. Degas has added a slight sketch of the dancer’s forearm and hand in an effort to capture the right movement. The inscription in the upper center of the sheet,  menton reflêté (reflection on chin), indicates that the artist intended to show the dancer’s chin in shadow. The long extension of the subject’s left arm delicately modeled in white chalk and ending in her eloquently positioned pinky finger, in contrast to the shaded anonymity of the dancer’s profile and articulated right hand, compound the dynamism of the drawing already indicated by Degas’s choice to place the dancer’s head in the upper right corner of the sheet. A more complete drawing depicting the same pose, in the Albertina in Vienna, was exhibited in Hamburg in 2009². This sheet is almost an extension of our drawing, an indication of what Degas may have intended had he pushed our sheet further.

Léon-Louis Weill was a French collector who gave several works of art to French museums. Among these are a group of watercolors by Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910), given to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, an important Nabis gouache by Roger de la Fresnaye (1885-1925) given to the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, a Pissarro (1830-1903) watercolor and several Old Master drawings given to the Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre.

  1. See R. Kendall and J. Devonyar, Degas and the Ballet:  Picturing Movement, exhibition catalogue, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2011, pp. 130-47, nos. 49-61, all illustrated, for an overview of studies of the various ballet poses.

  2. Black chalk heightened with white, 309 x 232 mm; H. Gassner, Degas, Intimäte und Pose, exhibition catalogue, Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle,  2009, no. 71, illustrated.

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