Degas’ Dancers in blue, drawn in pastels in the early 1890s when the artist’s sight was rapidly declining, is a remarkably intimate reproduction from light of the energy and movement of this small group of ballerinas. Although focusing more on sculpture due to his failing eyesight, Degas continued to produce his studies of dancers until his death in 1917. Synonymous with dancers and picturing movement, over half of Degas’ body of work features a dancing body, or a dancing body in training. Known as the pre-eminent painter of contemporary life, Dancers in blue retains the spirit of the Impressionists with which Degas was closely associated, featuring in most of their eight exhibitions. These moving visions of modernity are far removed from the pastoral world of Monet and Renoir and more closely attuned to his contemporaries Courbet and Manet. Preferring to classify himself as a Realist or a Naturalist, Degas’ deeply complex psychological studies of performances and preparations for performances remain some of the most startling documents of late nineteenth century modernity.
Dancers in blue is a reproduction from life in pastel of his favourite theme, the effects of the contre-jour, the lighting which casts silhouettes, the glaring and inquisitive light of the rehearsal room or the performance hall, and the sorrowful anonymity of the dancers. Often lowering his viewpoint to enhance the feeling of naturalism, each of his paintings are a visual manifesto, influenced by his mastery of a variety of different media and demonstrating his effective interpenetration of each. The pastel is dense and crumbling, omitting a luminous glow both sordid and epiphanic. One of an impressive series of dancers produced in pastel between 1890 and 1900, Dancers in blue is a masterful study of vitality and mortality.
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