Degas on the radio

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Dancers at the Barre, early 1880s–c. 1900.

Ah, the morning drive to work. 15 minutes (at least) of NPR. Last week, my ears perked up as a report began on the new Degas exhibit in Washington D.C.! The reporter, Susan Stamberg, visited in early November, accompanied by a few dancers from the Washington Ballet.

Degas seemed particularly fussed with a work titled Dancers at the Barre. By using an infrared camera, it was deduced that Degas changed the dancers’ positions about eight times. Perfection achieved?

One the visiting ballerinas pointed out that one painted foot looks slightly too flexed, not an ideal form. Hmmm…an oversight by a perfectionist such as Degas? I think not. And it seems the reporter agrees:

“…Degas was creating art, not life. He was fascinated by the art of becoming beautiful, and the infinite vocabulary of motion that came with it. In his depictions of this process, Degas created an ethereal world of lovely illusions that all the hard work is designed to produce.”

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, The Dancing Class, ca. 1870

Here one could point out a maturity in Degas’s work. His early paintings were almost photorealistic in nature, every inch a flawless reflection of the scene. Yet as he grew as an artist, he seemed to relinquish his claims on ideal repetition of ballet (which in itself is an art that seeks perfection of form) and focus on the interpretation of the world into the language of the work itself.

You can read the entire script of (or even listen to it) the NPR show here:

Find info about the exhibit here.


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