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Edgar Degas Dancers in Blue
Often called 'the painter of dancers', Edgar Degas is estimated to have completed approximately 1,500 pastels, paintings, prints and drawings on the theme. Yet among these works, very few depict codified movements of classical dance performances. Degas preferred to study and depict their gestures in various stages of tension and relaxation, painting them as they wait backstage or in the wings or performing their repetitions in the studio. As the preeminent painter of modern life in Paris in the late-nineteenth century, Degas rendered his subjects first and foremost of flesh and blood. They are cold, they get tired, stretch, yawn, and release their aching feet from their slippers. It is rare that Degas' dancers actually dance. Dancers in Blue reveals a group backstage during a rehearsal or performance. The color of the costumes in the foreground is the title of this pastel, while in the background, dancers dressed in yellow almost merge with the scenery. The pastel lines become thinner and codified, and the dominant colour swims in different textures, creating chiaroscuro impressions through the intermeshing of bodies and tutus.
Always true to his aesthetic, Degas preferred unique viewpoints rather than monotonous symmetry, hidden but precious moments before or after the show rather than the action on stage. The vagueness of many of his final works, far from being a defect, have the advantage of reducing the critical treatment of their subject, thereby exalting the spirit of the ballet world through iconic clean lines and dazzling colors. With a characteristic lack of restraint Degas shows with accuracy and subtlety the strict discipline of his young dancers' lives.
Beginning to lose his sight, Degas could often only manage to work in pastel, and when he did he had to work extremely close to the surface of the paper. This tragic decline could go someway to explaining the artist's retort when asked his opinion on being known as the 'painter of dancers'. Brushing off the moniker Degas said, 'They call me the painter of dancers, but in doing so they neglect to consider that the dancer for me is merely a pretext for painting pretty fabrics and rendering movement.' Although clearly the miserable lives of the young dancers counterposed with the luxurious lives of spectators were the primary points of interest for Degas, in the years of his decline the broad and shapely movement and the tactility of the surfaces went a long way to keeping his unique talent alive.
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