PROPERTY FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF A. J. MCNEILL REID
Anne Pingeot & Frank Horvat, Degas sculptures, Paris, 1991, no. 4, another cast illustrated pp. 66, 67 & 154; wax model illustrated and the present cast listed p. 154
Sara Campbell, 'A Catalogue of Degas' Bronzes', in Apollo, vol. CXLII, no. 402, August 1995, no. 3, another cast illustrated and the present cast listed p. 12
Joseph S. Czestochowski & Anne Pingeot, Degas Sculptures, Catalogue Raisonné of the Bronzes, Memphis, 2002, no. 3, another cast illustrated in colour pp. 126 & 127; wax model illustrated and the present cast listed p. 127
Sara Campbell, Richard Kendall, Daphne Barbour & Shelley Sturman, Degas in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, 2009, vol. II, no. 66, another cast illustrated in colour pp. 350-352; wax model illustrated p. 352
Suzanne Glover Lindsay, Daphne S. Barbour & Shelley G. Sturman, Edgar Degas Sculpture, Washington, D.C., 2010, wax model illustrated in colour p. 369
Degas's depictions of dancers are among the most celebrated works of the nineteenth century. He experimented with rendering the form of the dancer in various poses, depicting them both at work rehearsing or performing and in moments of repose. The three dimensional medium of sculpture offered him the most possibilities for capturing the grace and beauty of these figures and for exploring the seemingly boundless flexibility of their bodies. In the present work, the artist has rendered the dancer posing with her left leg extended backwards and at an oblique angle to the ground and her right arm extending forwards, counterbalancing her weight in a position known as an arabesque. As Alison Luchs notes: 'of all the movements of the classical ballet, the arabesque seems to have held the greatest fascination for Degas as a sculptor' (A. Luchs, 'The Degas Waxes', in Art for the Nation: Gifts in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1991, p. 196). It was a particularly dynamic position, and impossible to hold for an extended period of time; Degas seems to have delighted in the challenge of capturing this transient pose in a fixed sculptural form.
Jill De Vonyar and Richard Kendall have written about the significance of the arabesque in nineteenth century classical dance and the formal complexity that it offered the sculptor: 'An unpublished treatise written between 1868 and 1871 by the Opera instructor Léopold Adice, Grammaire et Théorie choréographique..., makes it clear that the bent knee was actively promoted. Adice's manuscript was extensively illustrated by himself, and as Sandra Noll Hammond has noted, in his drawings of high arabesques, 'the raised leg is always shown as though with a slightly relaxed knee.' In this context, we should note that Degas' sensitively modeled, lyrical figure is represented in the nude, allowing him to give full articulation to the currently preferred pose and, incidentally, to reveal the true shape of his uncorseted model' (J. De Vonyar & R. Kendall, Degas and the Dance (exhibition catalogue), The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit & The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 2002-03, p. 153).
A number of bronze casts of Danseuse, arabesque ouverte sur la jambe droite, bras gauche dans la ligne are now in international museums including the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Musée d'Orsay in Paris, Museu de Arte de São Paolo and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen.
Degas in Britain
The present work was one of a group of Degas bronzes owned by the Parisian dealer and collector Max Kaganovitch. The bronzes formed the basis of the 1951-52 Degas exhibition at the Kunstmusem in Bern and were acquired as a group by the British gallery Alex. Reid & Lefevre in September 1951.
The acquisition of these works continued a long association between the name of Alex Reid and the works of Degas. Reid was a visionary, among the first to recognise the appeal of the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and largely responsible for introducing them to British collectors. A Glaswegian by birth, Reid's interest in contemporary French painting began during the years he spent in Paris from 1886 until 1888 working for Theo van Gogh at Boussod, Valadon et Cie. and painting alongside his brother Vincent. When he returned to Glasgow in 1888 paintings by Degas were among the works that he brought with him. Initially it proved difficult to convince British collectors of the merits of these 'new' French artists but Reid persevered and following the First World War and the emergence of a subsequent generation of collectors his gallery began to flourish. In 1919 he held a hugely successful exhibition - both financially and critically - at the McLellan Galleries in Glasgow, and soon after detected an appetite for modern French art in London. He and his son, A.J. McNeill Reid, joined forces with his former rival Ernest Lefevre in 1923, organising exhibitions in London and Glasgow before formally combining their businesses in 1926.
Degas continued to be central to the gallery's success and Reid was key in introducing his work to the most important British collectors of the time; this included helping to build William Burrell's celebrated collection of works by the artist, among which is the masterpiece La Répétition (fig. 1).
Having been acquired by Alex. Reid & Lefevre, the present work was included in the gallery's major Degas exhibition in 1958 and passed into the personal collection of A.J. McNeill Reid. It has remained with his family ever since.
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