'The Painter of Dancers' as Obsessed Documentarian

By Andreae, Christopher | The Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

'The Painter of Dancers' as Obsessed Documentarian


Andreae, Christopher, The Christian Science Monitor


"They call me the painter of dancers, not understanding that for me the dance is a pretext for painting pretty costumes and rendering movement." As an explanation of his art, this comment, voiced by Degas to the art dealer Vollard sounds like an almost trivial understatement.

Richard Kendall, co-curator of the major exhibition, "Degas and the Dance," opening Oct. 20 at The Detroit Institute of Arts, states the case more strongly.

"His pastels, particularly of the 1880s, are utterly gorgeous works of art. His way with color, his way with light, his way with texture and surface are just fabulous," Mr. Kendall says in a telephone interview from Paris. "On the other hand, the things he chooses to depict and the way he depicts them almost invariably give them an edge, a toughness, and a strength that you don't associate with purely decorative art."

The exhibition features 144 of his paintings, works on paper, and sculptures. Extraordinarily, this is the first exhibition ever devoted exclusively to what constitutes more than half of Degas's output.

The French artist could justifiably be described as obsessed with ballet, with ballet dancers, and with the Paris Opera itself. This was the vast, popular institution in which these dancers were trained from childhood.

Kendall and his collaborator, Jill De Vonyar, a trained dancer as well as an art historian, relentlessly searched the Opera archives for links between Degas's pictures and documented productions, as well as known dancers in his circle. Their work has led to numerous redefinitions and shifts of emphasis in Degas studies.

The two curators challenge the assumption that his pictures follow the caricatures of the day by satirizing the predatory backstage habits of the male "abonnes," or subscribers, at the Opera vis-a-vis the female dancers. He became an abonne himself in the 1880s, and while his pictures certainly did, at times, show ironic awareness of the liaisons of this shadowy world, statistically this was not one of his main themes.

Degas's own connections with the dancers was professional and sympathetic, but there is no suggestion that it was ever amorous. If he was in love with these little "rats" as they were known, it was as a painter. In those terms, his intense interest in every detail of their training, behavior, posture, gesture, and often quite ugly little faces, was much deeper than he admitted to Vollard.

Degas also relished the tulle and gauze and sparkle of their costumes. And rendering their "movement" was unquestionably central to his interest.

Kendall and Ms. De Vonyar convincingly argue that a number of images long have had misleading titles, called "rehearsals" for example, when they probably depict "classes." Such discoveries should prompt the renaming of some works. Their research also demonstrates close connections between recorded ballets (often, at that period, divertissements during operas) and specific images.

And they can now document Degas's personal acquaintance with almost 50 nameable dancers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

'The Painter of Dancers' as Obsessed Documentarian
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.