Edgar Degas (1834–1917): Yellow Dancers (In the Wings)

Edgar Degas (1834–1917): Yellow Dancers (In the Wings)

8/14/2021, 1:58:16 PM
Edgar Degas (1834–1917): Yellow Dancers (In the Wings), 1874-76, Oil on canvas, (73.5 x 59.5 cm), Art Institute of Chicago Edgar Degas first painted dancers as an independent subject in 1871. He was to devote almost half his output as an artist to this subject, observing countless performances and rehearsals at the Paris Opéra. Perhaps he recognized a parallel between their art - in which precise, demanding techniques are made to appear effortless and beautiful - and his own. Examining the dancer at rest, in rehearsal, behind the scenes, and onstage, he took an almost documentary approach to this subject. Dance subjects allowed Degas to contemporize his lifelong interest in showing the human body in complex movement, shifting the scene from ancient history to modern Paris. He finished and signed the present canvas in time for the second Impressionist exhibition, in April 1876. (Art Institute of Chicago) Degas executed Yellow Dancers quickly and confidently, applying paint thinly and making few alterations after it had dried. Here he placed the viewer in the wings, as if among the elite Opéra subscribers who roamed and socialized backstage. Three ballerinas preen in the foreground of this radical composition. Absorbed in the task of adjusting their costumes, they are bathed in light that seems to be filtered through golden gauze. Their curvaceous forms echo the shape of the stage flat behind them; beyond that artificial barrier, we glimpse the calves and feet of a number of dancers. Such unexpected juxtapositions, cut-off forms, and two-dimensional patterning - effects Degas had absorbed from Japanese woodblock prints - heighten the sense of immediacy.

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