Thursday, 1 December 2011

Degas and the Ballet

Spent a very pleasant morning at the RA in the company of the work of Monsieur Degas. I was introduced to his work at school, and wrote an essay on him as part of my O Level Art exam and have been an admirer of his work ever since.

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement focuses on his attempts at capturing the movement of dancers through drawings, sculpture, oil and pastel paintings. It also documents pioneering photographers of movement such as Nadar and Muybridge, who showed how humans and animals really moved. 

Although it has become easy nowadays to dismiss most of his ballet pictures as twee, when one looks at the context of the time they were produced, you can appreciate how controversial the subject matter was, given how some of the ballerinas were forced to supplement their incomes by "entertaining" rich patrons in private rooms at the Opera after ballet performances.

Among the innovations of Degas' work at this time were the use of photographs and Japanese prints from which he took foreshortening and cutting off figures by objects 
within the picture or the picture frame in an attempt to show realism. Working in pastel and presenting these as finished paintings in themselves was also another innovation and has its modern day equivalent in the work of Paula Rego.

It was interesting to see his working sketches of the dancers but I think the exhibition would have benefited from more of his major finished painting and pastel pieces.