Henri Fèvre, Monte Carlo (acquired at the above sale)
Private Collection, Paris (1939)
Knoedler & Co., New York
Acquired on February 18, 1980
The artist's lifelong interest in dance developed in the 1860s, when as a young man he regularly attended the ballet and other performances such as opera, café-concerts and the circus. Degas was attracted to the spectacle and excitement of live entertainment and found in it an endless source of inspiration, sketching the performers from nature. In this manner he was able to study both the natural unguarded gestures of dancers at rest and the stylised movements of classical ballet. Degas was fascinated not only by the public spectacle of ballet performances, but also by the more informal situations around them: the behind-the-scenes world of the rehearsal room or the dance class, the dancers' preparation and tension before a performance, and the more relaxed, casual moments that followed afterwards.
Throughout Degas' career, his treatment of this subject underwent a radical metamorphosis. In the later decades, the artist's visits to the ballet became less frequent and he began working increasingly from models in his studio in the rue Victor Massé. Whereas visits to the ballet had only afforded Degas fleeting demonstrations of the dancers' choreographed movements, the privacy of the studio presented him with the opportunity to pose a model in his preferred way. It was at this time that he began to work in series, a practice which opened up a wealth of creative possibilities. In the late 1890s, he executed several versions, including the present work, of the dancers stretching in preparation for a performance.
Degas had been fascinated with this theme since the earlier days of his career, and executed some remarkable early pastels. In his works of the 1890s, however, Degas' focus moved away from the linear, towards a new interest in color, and the present work is a magnificent example of his newly found freedom of expression. The success of Degas' late pastels of dancers and their importance in the artist's production was acknowledged by John Rewald: "In his [...] important pastels of dancers and nudes, he was gradually reducing the emphasis on line in order to seek the pictorial. Resorting to ever more vibrant colour effects, he found in his pastels a means to unite line and colour. While every pastel stroke became a colour accent, its function in the whole was often not different from that of the impressionist brush stroke. His pastels became multicoloured fireworks where all precision of form disappeared in favour of a texture that glittered with hatchings" (J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, p. 566).
Degas' depictions of dancers were often first drawn nude and subsequently 'clothed' in the worked-up pastels with tutus, shoes and other dancing paraphernalia, examples of which Degas kept in the studio. From these initial studies Degas would construct a dramatic and vivid scene without leaving the privacy of the studio. Furthermore, he often studied various poses of the dancers in sculpture, and used them as a basis for his compositions in pastel and oil.
The first owner of this picture was Degas' brother-in-law, the architect Henri Fevre. The majority of Fevre's collection was sold at the time of his death in 1925, but that sale catalogue does not list the present work. It is presumed, then, that the picture remained with Fevre's daughter Jeanne, whose book Mon oncle Degas was published in 1949 and who may have been the lender to the exhibition at the Galerie André Weil in 1939.
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