Lot 19
  • 19

Edgar Degas

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 GBP
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  • Edgar Degas
  • stamped Degas (lower left)
  • pastel on paper
  • 50 by 62.5cm.
  • 19 5/8 by 24 5/8 in.


Sale: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, Atelier Edgar Degas, 2ème Vente, 11th-13th December 1918, lot 191
Nunès et Fiquet, Paris
Roger G. Gompel, Paris
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above)


Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Exposition de cent ans de théâtre, music-hall et cirque, 1936, no. 29 (titled Dansueuse assise rajustant sa chaussure)
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Degas, 1937, no. 138
Paris, La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Degas dans les collections Françaises, 1955, no. 123, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Danseuse remettant sa sandale and as dating from 1886)


Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, no. 907, illustrated p. 529
Robert Gordon & Andrew Forge, Degas, New York, 1988, illustrated in colour p. 193

Catalogue Note

Degas’ life-long obsession with depicting ballet dancers rarely focused upon the artifice of rigorously trained poses and the tableaux vivant of the stage. Instead, the briefly glimpsed moments of relaxation or exhaustion that reveal the fragility of the performer and her essential humanity captivated the artist and featured in numerous works. Danseuse rajustant son chausson is an exceptional example of Degas’ ability to render in pastel the most subtle shifts of light upon flesh, the rustle of cloth and the underlying tension of muscles. This skill is never more apparent than in the pose chosen for the present work in which the dancer strains toward her ankles in order to adjust her slipper. The many-hued pastel marks that inform the curvature of the dancer’s spine is wonderfully descriptive, as are the blues of the voluminous bow at her waist.

Commenting on Degas's predilection for painting dancers at rest, the influential early collector Louisine Havemeyer, who owned many pastels of similar subject matter (fig. 1), suggested: ‘although he loved to pose Mlle Mauri [a favourite model] upon the tips of her toes and make her gauzy skirts vibrate with the most enthralling harmonies of colour, it was not thus that he cared to interpret the ballet. He preferred to portray the sinuous, sleek little creatures who came up from the heart of Paris with their mothers to present themselves at the opera and seek an entrance to the school which will enslave the best part of their young lives and make them untiring pupils of “Pluque” the venerable maître de danse’ (quoted in Jean Sutherland Boggs & Anne Maheaux, Degas Pastels, London, 1992, p. 92).

Through the privileges of his class Degas had unfettered access to the backstage of the opera where he and his friends the Vicomte Lepic, Albert Boulanger-Cavé and Ludovic Halévy consorted with the performers. Degas also sought permission to attend the dance classes at the rue Le Peletier given by Jules Perrot, which enabled him to observe dancers in a variety of emotional and physical states. Degas utilised this advantageous position for similar reasons that provoked his other work, and Richard Kendall suggests: ‘As in his other studies of the working women of Paris, from laundresses to prostitutes, Degas was evidently committed to making art for his fellow citizens out of the raw material that nourished their luxury and pleasure. At the Opéra, this necessarily involved what Eunice Lipton has called the “demystification of the dance”, a matter-of-fact engagement with long hours in class and rehearsal room, where youthful physiques were tuned for their fleeting roles in the footlights’ (R. Kendall in Degas and the Dance (exhibition catalogue), The Detroit Museum of Arts, Detroit, 2003, p. 137).

The composition of the present work derives from one of the most dynamic and remarkable poses to figure in Degas’s work. It came to symbolise much of what attracted Degas to depicting the dance and frequently features as the focus of his finest compositions (fig. 2). Discussing the use of this pose in seminal works from the 1880s, Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge wrote about the ‘dancer who leans forward, her head lower than her knee, a hand clasping her left foot. We look down on her head and the bare expanse of her shoulder and upper back framed by the halo of her skirt. This seated figure, knees spread, with the arms stretched toward the feet, particularly fascinated Degas, who drew it many times. It represented the extreme opposite of the weightlessness and grace of the dancer in action. It is earth-bound; the head hangs, evoking the Baudelairian image of the white bird grounded. This aspect of the pose gave rise to pastels such as Danseuses au Foyer [fig. 3], in which we are brought close to the dancer’s exhaustion. In L’Attente [fig. 2] the same pose is drawn into a narrative and expresses boredom as the dancer sits waiting beside her mother in black street clothes. The pose shows the figure of the dancer in a highly unfigure-like aspect. Each drawing that he made of it reminds us of his quest for unusual viewpoints, his passion for the oblique. It is as though discovering the dancer at rest like this, unawares, he is able to claim a tighter grip on her, discovering her physical presence piece by piece in an unfamiliar order, the drawing aestheticized by being somehow out of step with familiar figuration’ (R. Gordon & A. Forge, op. cit., New York, 1988, pp. 187-188).