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Blue Dancers

Painting, 1898, 65×65 cm
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Description of the artwork «Blue Dancers»

Degas did not want anyone to make speeches at his funeral. And if it could not be helped, he asked to say something very simple, like, ‘He loved painting.’ Well, it is nothing but the truth. If he was ever really concerned about anything, it was how to show gesture and motion accurately by means of drawing and painting. He would look for unusual angles, shift the point of sight, and the more challenging the task was, the more eagerly he took on it.
Ballet, of course, was a real conundrum for the artist. It involved complex postures, lithe bodies, deep theatrical perspectives, bright lights, and opportunities to choose an angle at which no artist had ever painted people.
Blue Dancers appeared at the time when the artist’s eyesight had grown very poor and he had to cover his eyes against sunlight. Six years later, he would cease painting completely and, instead, take up wax moulding by touch. But his subjects would remain dancers in complex postures and horses in motion.

Girl dancers and choreography students would come to Degas’s studio. There, he would make dozens of studies to be later arranged together in a well-calculated, well-balanced composition. He loved the effect of a spontaneous snapshot that was actually a result of thorough preparation and calculation. He confessed, ‘What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing.’
He never painted celebrated dancers. The faces of his subjects conveyed little even to his contemporaries: just ordinary backup dancers who had yet to go on stage in the future and saw no need in having a grand portrait in their front parlor.

Art critics and historians agree that Blue Dancers stand out from all the other works of Degas’s ballet series. The pastel looks like a traditional sketch where an artist can draw a model’s different positions from different points on the same sheet. It looks as though these dancers are actually the same girl, twirling around before going on stage, anxious about it. And this circle of preparation and anxiety return ballet to its original atmosphere, both solemn and festive, which Degas always purposely removed from his ballet pictures, showing instead dancers’ everyday grueling work backstage. These girls seem (or this girl seems) to be performing a graceful ritual dance, as festive and perfect as the one they are going to present to the audience a minute later.
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Genre scene

Style of art: Impressionism

Technique: Pastel

Materials: Cardboard

Date of creation: 1898

Size: 65×65 cm

Artwork in selections: 165 selections

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