Degas and Pastels: Part I

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Dancers in Rose, c. 1900. Pastel on paper, 33 1/8 x 22 7/8 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Seth K. Sweetser Fund.

Because I work in pastels, I am particularly interested in seeing how other artists use this often underappreciated medium. Our current Degas exhibition features numerous works by the artist in pastel.

What were some of the qualities that attracted Degas to pastels? Unlike oil paint, pastel can be used spontaneously and has no preparation or drying time. It is a very direct material and permits the artist to make changes readily–important qualities for an artist like Degas who prized the ability to leave evidence of his decision making process on the surface.

Degas worked almost exclusively in pastel beginning in 1876 during a period of financial instability in his family. The works that Degas produced in pastel were more marketable than some of his works in other media such as painting, printmaking, and sculpture. In a letter to a friend, Degas referred to the necessity of doing some small pastels “to earn my dog’s life.” Though his use of pastels originated in necessity, they became his favorite material. Degas created over 700 pastels, more than in any other medium that he explored. Always a restless experimenter, Degas pushed the medium to its expressive limits. Continue reading “Degas and Pastels: Part I” »

Early Ballet Films

Degas thought of himself as a painter of movement. As lovely as his paintings are, his dancers are frozen in their poses, beautiful bugs in amber. What if we could go back in time to watch a performance?

When motion pictures were invented, the camera was focused on anything that moved – trains, people, horses, and yes, dancers. There are no movies of ballet dancers during the late 19th century, but there are a precious few of ballet during the early 20th (close enough). With film, a famous dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet could be watched anywhere over the globe, or, a century later, delight us over the internet.

La Sylphide solo 1903

Pas de Deux 1902

Dance exercises at the barre 1920

And this beguiling couple….
Geltzer & Tikhomirov, husband and wife in the Bolshoi Ballet – Pas de Deux

This last performance reminds that, aside from the dance master, there are no male dancers in Degas’s ballet scenes. This recalls Gauguin’s paintings of Tahiti, in which there are few, if any, men depicted. Was Degas, like Gauguin, creating his own private paradise?

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant