Lot 76
  • 76

Edgar Degas

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
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  • Edgar Degas
  • Danseuses
  • Signed degas (lower left)
  • Pastel and charcoal on joined paper laid down on board
  • 25 3/4 by 30 5/8 in.
  • 65.4 by 77.8 cm


Ambroise Vollard, Paris

Lucien Henraux, Paris (until 1926)

Heirs of the above (sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 16, 1942, lot 1)

Private Collection, New York

M. Knoedler & Co., New York

Reader's Digest, Pleasantville (acquired in 1964 and sold: Sotheby's, New York, The Reader's Digest Collection, November 16, 1998, lot 16)

Acquired at the above sale by A. Alfred Taubman


Tokyo, Palaceside Building, Forty Paintings from The Reader's Digest Collection, 1966, no. 12

New York, Wildenstein & Co., Selections from The Reader's Digest Collection, 1985-86, pp. 24-25

Auckland City Art Gallery, Reader's Digest Collection: Manet to Picasso, 1989, pp. 30-31

London, National Gallery & The Art Institute of Chicago, Degas: Beyond Impressionism, 1996-97, no. 23

New York, American Federation of Arts, Edgar Degas: The Painter of Dancers, 2002-03

Detroit Institute of Arts & Philadelphia Museum of Art, Degas and the Dance, 2003, no. 264, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Edgar Degas, The Late Work, 2012-13, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue


Ambroise Vollard, Album Degas, Paris, n.d., illustrated pl. XIV

"Les Ventes," Beaux-Arts, February 6, 1942, p. 15

Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. 3, Paris, 1946, no. 1223, illustrated p. 711

Franco Russoli, L'Opera Completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. 1113, illustrated p. 136

Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, vol. III, New York & London, 1984, no. 1223, illustrated p. 711


Please contact the Impressionist and Modern Art Department at (212) 606-7360 for the condition report for this lot.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Executed circa 1895-1900, Danseuses depicts ballet dancers before a performance, getting ready to appear on the stage. Degas'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.  He 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 stylized 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 for 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.  Dating from the late 1890s, the present work 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 stroke that emphasized vibrant color effects.  The central dancers are rendered with attention to detail, while the other two dancers and the background and foreground show a looser treatment.

The simplified, almost abstract rendering of the background makes it impossible to identify the setting of the scene we are witnessing, although the green area against which the figures are seen probably represents a stage set; the four dancers, who are standing backstage, are shown in a moment of anticipation, as they are about to take the stage.  While he was fascinated with the formal movements of the dancers that he observed at the Opéra, the vast majority of the artist's production focused on the ballerinas in the foyers or backstage.  Degas developed his complex compositions of several dancers from numerous preliminary studies of isolated figures. These studies were often executed in charcoal on tracing paper and then transferred onto a further sheet or painted on canvas, where they were combined with other figures to form a group.  The dancers were often first drawn or painted nude and subsequently 'clothed' 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.

Around the time he executed Danseuses, Degas was still a frequent visitor to the new Opéra in Paris, designed by Charles Garnier, which was inaugurated in January 1875.  It was here that he met many of the dancers who became the subject of his oils, pastels and drawings.  Discussing Degas' depictions of dancers executed around this time, Jill De Vonyar and Richard Kendall wrote: "Degas had come to know many of the dancers at the Opéra intimately: he had devoted nearly half his professional life to an extended study of their daily routines and to putting what he observed onto paper and canvas, or into wax and clay.  Their work sustained a great deal of his own, a dependence noted in reviews of the Impressionist exhibitions, where one critic suggested in 1879 that Degas had himself become 'one of those remarkable coryphées,' and another hailed him the following year, possibly for the first time, as 'the painter of dancers'" (Jill De Vonyar & Richard Kendall, Degas and the Dance, New York, 2002, p. 195).

Sotheby's would like to thank Professor Theodore Reff for his assistance with the cataloguing of this work.