Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement

The Dance Class (La Classe de Danse),1873–1876...

Image via Wikipedia

Today we ventured to the Royal Academy of Arts for a special exhibit: Degas and the Ballet – Picturing Movement. Click on the exhibition link to see a brief video of some of the pieces. This unique exhibition demonstrates the artist’s skills as a painter, sculptor, photographer, and a student of the science of motion. Most of us know of Degas‘ paintings, some of you may know of his sculptures (many of which are displayed at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris), but I suspect few know of his ventures into photography and his interests in the scientific study of animal motion.

The exhibit occupies ten rooms: Introduction, Describing the Dance, Mobile Viewing, The Panoramic Gaze, The Human Animal, The Dancer in Movement, Degas the Photographer, Degas’ Late Years (The Animated Figure), Color and Dynamism, and Coda. These rooms follow the artist’s life through his study and documentation of dance in all the media at his command.

The paintings included dozens of oils and pastels that are held by individual collections. The Royal Academy has the prestige to obtain use of these for the exhibition.

Degas’ foray into the new art of photography shows an artist willing to experiment with new technologies and incorporate them into his techniques. He took photos for reference for his paintings. Degas also used ideas from photography to develop his sculptures. Like a photographer of the time who were tinkering with perspective, he would sketch pictures of his model from 360 degrees, then use these to make final sketches for the sculpture.

A side benefit was a small special exhibit of the work of Nigel Hall, one of the Royal Academisians. Known for his abstract paintings, drawings, and sculptures, this exhibit features sketches from his travel sketchbooks. Travels included Switzerland, Italy, France, Australia, and Arizona. His ability to capture a place with a few lines and simple washes is wonderful.

The Degas exhibit was an art class in itself! Here are some representative images. They are quite small, but the best I could find online. The exhibit link above is better.


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About Paul

I'm retired, but working at painting, photography, and song writing. We like to travel and paint plein air in new places. Of course that's also where photography comes into the picture, so to speak. Sometimes I get inspired to write songs about the people and places we visit.
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