Degas’ The Blue Dancers, painted in 1899 and currently housed at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, is the culmination of the artist’s life-long study of movement and dancers. Once humbly trying to explain his fervent interest in the rehearsals, performances, and training of ballerinas, Degas said: “People call me the painter of dancing girls. It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.” The Blue Dancers was drawn with pastels in the last twenty years of his career when he was working from a large Montmartre studio. It is said that visitors to his studio would comment on the artist’s remarkable skill for conjuring images of such beauty from such gloomy surroundings. Initially part of the group that became known to the world as the Impressionists, Degas participated in the first exhibition of their works in 1874 and was featured in the majority of the subsequent ones. Yet his work always seemed to appear independent from the luminous landscape reproductions of Monet, and the idyllic inner world of Renoir. Degas was, most importantly, a painter of contemporary life, as symbolised in the highly trained balance and energy of ballerinas.
Frequently visited in his studios by his peers Mary Cassatt, Édouard Manet, and Paul Gauguin, Degas absorbed the divergent views of a great many prodigious talents. Mastering a variety of media including oil, pastel, printmaking, sculpture, and photography, his occupation was to reflect the inner complexity of human beings, and he did so by highlighting tiniest and most fleeting gestures. By the time of his The Blue Dancers, Degas was almost blind. Yet he continued to create works of remarkable intimacy and beauty, characterised by a loose style and luminous palette, and all displaying his signature ability to both contain movement and reproduce it.
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