This delicate charcoal drawing of a dancer captures one of Degas’ favourite subjects from this mature period of the brightly lit stage and behind the scenes at the magnificent opera house at Rue Le Peletier and then the Opéra Garnier. Mesmerised by the rhythms, repetition and artifice of performance, Degas became known as “the painter of dancing girls”, though he argued, “it has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes”.
‘Danseuse’ is typical of the numerous studies Degas made of professional dancers during the 1870s and 80s. While he was not the first artist to be captivated by the dance halls of Paris, Degas was innovative in his ability to step behind the curtain and observe the ‘rats’, the girls who made up the ballet chorus. In ‘Danseuse’ we are able to see Degas’ working process laid bare as he studied dancers in various positions in the rehearsal room. Praised for his mastery of drawing, Degas imbued his dancers with an emotional and artistic sensitivity that conveyed the spontaneity of movement and prompted British artist Walter Sickert to call him ‘the greatest living draughtsman’.
‘Danseuse’ was one of countless drawings and pastels kept hidden in Degas’ private collection in his de Clichy studio throughout this life. Upon Degas’ death in 1917, the celebrated Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who had worked closely with the artist, authenticated the works. However, at the age of 87 it fell to his son Joseph Durand-Ruel to make an inventory of the collection and handle the sales of the estate alongside fellow dealer Ambroise Vollard. In the midst of the First World War, Durand-Ruel wrote “Vollard and I were astonished by the considerable number of superb drawings and pastels that Degas had never shown anyone”. This drawing was acquired by the Durand-Ruel family from the fourth and last atelier sale, held July 2-4, 1919.
Atelier Edgar Degas
Sale: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 4th sale, Jul. 2-4, 1919, lot 251
Durand-Ruel (acquired at the above sale)
Patricia Salter Bradshaw, New York
Thence by descent
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Brame and Lorenceau dated 24 September 2015 and is included in their archives.
San Francisco, Vente Atelier Edgar Degas 1919 - Ventes III + IV, Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1989, no.251, illus. p.216