Monday, 31 October 2011

Exhibition - Degas and the Ballet ; Picturing Movement

Last Wednesday evening, I went to see the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy. The exhibition explores Degas' fascination with the figure in movement, and gives some insight into the influences of photography and moving pictures, which were in their infancy at that time.

The Law Society's Art Group, of which I am a member, had arranged for us to have a tour of the exhibition after it had been closed to the general public, which meant we could get up close and personal to the artwork. Even more thrilling, our guide was exhibition co-curator, Ann Dumas, who was a veritable mine of fascinating information about Degas and his paintings. (She also managed to resolve an issue I have about the prenunciation of the name, Degas, which apparently should sound like Dergar).

As a pastelist as well as an oil painter, I was excited at the prospect of seeing Degas' works in real life for the first time. Full credit must go to the curators for their hard work in securing some excellent paintings, sketches and sculptures as well as photographs and moving images. For me, of particular note were the following:-

Two Dancers on the Stage, oil on canvas, for the magnificent portrayal of light. Measuring about 62 x 46cm (24 x 18 ins), this painting was much smaller than I had expected it to be.

The Red Ballet Skirts, for the vibrant colours and superb pastel strokes.

And of course, The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The original was exhibited only once during Degas' lifetime - in Paris in 1881. At the time, it was severely criticised by some, who considered it ugly. As the original was fashioned out of coloured wax topped with a wig of real hair perhaps one can sympathise with that view. Following Degas' death in 1917, 28 bronzes were cast, the majority of which are in museums. The one in this exhibition has been borrowed from the Tate, which acquired it in 1952.

Very few of the bronzes are in private collections but one is due to come under the hammer at Christies in New York in November. However, you will need very deep pockets if you would like to own it; it is expected to fetch between $25 and $35 million!!

The exhibition runs until 11th December and is well worth a visit.

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