Degas and the Ballet

Sep 20, 2011 by

I had booked a ticket for 10 am for the Degas exhibition, not realising that the doors to the Academy would not open until 10. Luckily it was quite a nice day and there is a cafe in the courtyard so I was able to enjoy a good cup of coffee and ended up letting the queue in while I finished it. If you don’t want to queue or it’s a cold day, I would recommend booking a later ticket.

Degas used a variety of media in his work and this exhibition gives us a chance to see examples of them all, from gouache and pastel to oils and photography to brass sculpture with textiles. The generosity of private individuals and art galleries is great, giving members of the public the opportunity to see works of art they would not otherwise have access to.

Degas spent an incredible amount of time with ordinary people, in this case dancers, studying them as they went about their work and relaxed. In one painting I saw today, there was a view of Paris through the window, looking past the dancer, posing.

Ballet photos from the time Degas was painting are displayed, complementing his work. I was fascinated by the preparatory studies Degas made for the sculpture of the Little Dancer aged 14. They show how he circled the model, making observations from different angles. This is set in context by the photo sculpture work of Francois Willeme.

As the career of Degas developed and his work changed, we are shown examples of others’ work at the time. For example panoramic photos and Marey’s series of chronophotographic films which he made to help sculptors and artists observe human form and movement and thereby show greater accuracy in their work.

An hour is my maximum concentration span and I was just getting towards the end of the exhibition as it neared. It’s interested to note that people listening to audio guides seem to lose awareness of others, veering unpredictably sideways or backwards without warning!

Highly recommended.

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