Art review: Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement
Royal Academy of Art, London
11 September – 11 December 2011
Review by: Alexa Williamson
For those who love ballet, things French, impressionism and the beauty and joy of movement and a moment of real life caught in a picture, then this Degas exhibit, which has whipped in to London in all its masterpiece of colour, strokes and premise, is worth a viewing.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), in his lifetime, was given the well-earned title “the painter of dancers” and this exhibit, which depicts just a few of his hundreds of scenes he captured in Paris is a pure treat – like a night at the ballet but its colour whirls around you, silent, frozen on paper and canvasses so you can relish it for as long as you want.
Both a frequenter of the opera (he was born into a music loving family), who captured this world in both paint and pastels and a leading member of the Impressionist movement in the 1870s, it is fair to say that Degas was a Bohemian leader and the proof has been graciously brought to London to show it – including such works as The Rehearsal (oil on canvas, 1874), and The Dance Lesson (1879) and Three Dancers (1903). Within the eight or so rooms of the exhibit, the viewer is both within an art exhibit and almost backstage at “the ballet” peering in due to the dark atmosphere and numerous paintings and the statue of Mari van Goethen, the model for the famous dressed wax figure Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1880-81, cast 1922).
Degas, as explained, and witnessed in this exhibit, always was an artist who preferred paintings and drawings of what he did instead of photography or even film, which became a popular medium at the end of his life. And no matter how one quantifies or tries to “theme” his work, like this exhibit wisely points out, Degas is an artist of “the dance” and a major figure in Bohemian Paris. Perhaps he was always in love with the way Paris twinkles in the darkness, who knows? This exhibit is indeed a sight for eyes that long for beauty. The colours, the strokes are, as always, breath-taking and what won his works so many admirers for years – and always will. People need beauty in their lives and this is indeed one of the best European sources around.
Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement (Official site – Royal Academy of Art)