An archetypal subject of the artist's œuvre, Degas’ dancers project his artistic vision through a unity of expression that elevates sculpture and dance at the centre of civilisation, a view largely upheld by the dominant neoclassical theories during Degas’ time. Although Degas often used sculptures as studies for his paintings, the present work was modelled for its inherent interest, typifying the artist’s enthrallment with the sculptural process. The sacred communion between dance and sculpture was so quintessential to the artist’s work, such that Degas remarked to François Thiébault-Sisson, ‘Draw a dancing figure, with a little skill, you should be able to create an illusion for a short time. But however painstakingly you study your adaptation, you will achieve nothing more than an insubstantial silhouette, lacking all notions of mass and of volume and devoid of prevision. You will achieve truth only through modelling because this is an art that puts an artist under an obligation to neglect none of the essentials.’ (quoted in Richard Kendall, Degas by Himself: Drawings, Prints, Paintings, Writings, London, 1987, p. 245).
The multi-perspectival space occupied by sculpture, also allowed Degas to explore the technical rigour of the dancer, with an expressive immediacy that displayed effortless control and perfect balance, highlighting the masterfulness of both the dancer and Degas. Whilst ballet positions are often named according to the dancer’s spatial relationship to the audience, in his freestanding space, the viewer is invited to boundlessly explore the aesthetic and anatomic stature of the dancer, to circle her in admiration both for her poise, and for Degas’ skill. In describing the pose, art historian Gary Tinterow notes, ‘While the majority of Degas’ s dance sculptures capture fleeting moments of movement or disequilibrium, this work is notable for the perfect balance of the figure and the dancer’s seemingly effortless control over her body.’ (quoted in Degas (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1988, p. 473). An exemplar of Degas’ sculptures and remarkable in its construction, other casts of the model are held in the prestigious collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
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