MAGNIFICENT GESTURES: MASTERWORKS FROM THE DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL COLLECTION FULL PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION
Degas' behind-the-scenes participation at the Garnier Opera performances allowed him access to details of the dancers' practices that were otherwise unseen. By the late 1870s and into the 1880s he attended both the performances and rehearsals, and he was well known among the members of the company. With such privileged access he could render them with his pastels in the midst of a staged production and in their more intimate moments when their movements were wholly unchoreographed. As Richard Kendall and Jill De Vonyar state: "no one observed more closely than Degas...the process by which 'common' Opéra dancers were transformed—through makeup, stylized costumes, and the distance between the proscenium and the audience—into 'priestesses of grace.' Much of his own art was concerned with this metamorphosis: research has increasingly revealed the extent to which his performance images were rooted in firsthand experience of the state rather than in his painterly imagination" (Degas and the Dance (exhibition catalogue), The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit & Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 2002-03, p. 157).
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, where he often photographed them. 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. 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. Degas' constant experimentation with movement and grouping of dancers' bodies, also extended into experimentation with various media, including colored paper, and techniques of execution.
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