Lot 30
  • 30

Edgar Degas

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
1,805,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Edgar Degas
  • Danseuse au tambourin
  • signed Degas (upper right)
  • oil on paper laid down on panel
  • 31.8 by 40cm.
  • 12 1/2 by 15 3/4 in.


Arthur Meyer, Paris

Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above on 10th December 1888)

Charles Haviland, Paris (acquired from the on 28th July 1891)

Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above on 22nd September 1917)

Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (transferred from the above in 1917)

Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (transferred from the above in 1930)

Georges Lévy, Paris (acquired from the above on 22nd October 1930)

Christian-Otto Zieseniss, Paris & New York (acquired from the above in April 1936)

Christian & Otto Zieseniss, Paris (by descent from the above)

Sam Bloch, New York

Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, 15th May 1984, lot 34

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


New York, World’s Fair, French Pavilion, Five Centuries of History Mirrored in Five Centuries of French Art, 1939, no. 370

New York, Wildenstein & Co., Ltd., Edgar Degas, 1949, no. 65


L’Illustration, vol. 97, no. 5023, June 1939, illustrated in colour

Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son œuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, no. 723, illustrated p. 411

Lillian Browse, Degas Dancers, London, 1949, illustrated fig. 179 (titled Dans les coulisses. Danseuse au tambourin)

Franco Russoli & Fiorella Minervino, L’Opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. 795, illustrated p. 122

Catalogue Note

During the early 1880s Degas repeatedly drew upon the ballet as his major source of inspiration. Danseuse au tambourin, painted in 1883, depicts dancers on stage at the Opéra and reflects a transformation that Degas's art underwent around this time. Moving away from the linear style of his early career, he adopted a freer, more spontaneous brushwork that emphasised vibrant colour effects in a style that would culminate in his late pastels. The dancer holding the tambourine and the performer to her right are rendered with the attention to detail that characterises his early works, while the background shows a looser treatment. Anchored by his peerless draughtsmanship, and informed by the artist’s exceptional visual memory, the composition provides an unconventional view of the stage. Degas frequently composed his depictions of the stage from the viewpoint of a priviledged attendant, such as from behind the orchestra pit (fig. 1), from an elevated position (fig. 2) or from the wings (fig. 3).

The long hours Degas spent attending both the main performances and rehearsals of the ballet enabled him to compose images that celebrated the essential beauty of the performer’s poses. 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 dancers. Degas also sought permission to attend the dance classes at the rue Le Peletier given by Jules Perrot, where he could observe the performers in a variety of emotional and physical states. 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’ (Richard Kendall in Degas and the Dance (exhibition catalogue), The Detroit Museum of Arts, Detroit, 2002, p. 137).

The ballet dancer’s distinctive poise is so rarely replicated as faithfully or with such understanding as in Degas’ compositions. Praising Degas’ dancers Lilian Browse wrote: ‘Perhaps it is only a professional who can fully appreciate the depth of Degas’ understanding of the fundamental characteristics which mark the classical ballet dancer. There is a particular air, a way of carriage, a certain kind of seriousness which stamps her all over and makes her recognisable even in out-door clothes. It is precisely this that he has realised, whereas other painters of the ballet, like Carrier-Belleuse, Henri Meyer, Paul Destez and Renouard, apart from artistic considerations, have hopelessly failed […] Degas’ trained observation has seized upon all these intimacies, nothing has remained unnoticed, and that is why his pictures are as true in fact as they are in spirit to the art he has chosen to depict’ (L. Browse, op. cit., London, 1949, pp. 59-60). While the majority of the artist’s paintings and pastels concerned with the subject of the ballet focus upon ballerinas at rest or hovering about in anticipation of the performance, Danseuse au tambourin is an important example of his work that is devoted to the main event. The precise balletic subject of Danseuse au tambourin is unknown but the distinctive costume; set design and use of the tambourine suggest that, like many of these works, Degas had a particular performance in mind when he determined these distinctive compositional elements.

The first owner of the present work was Charles Haviland. Haviland was the owner of a prestigious porcelain factory in Auteuil and an avid collector of Degas' work. The factory employed Degas' friend Félix Braquemond to design decorative plates and tiles, and in the late 1870s Degas himself went to Haviland's workshops to produce some painted tiles and a lithograph. Subsequently Danseuse au tambourin was acquired by the German-American stockbroker Christian-Otto Zieseniss, who gathered a highly important collection of Impressionist art, including works by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Sisley many of which he exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.