Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas liked to draw women. He dabbled with horses as well, but really, it was the women that grabbed his voyeuristic attention, often of the dancing or bathing variety. These ethereal damsels are the subject of an exhibition opening on the 20th September at the National Gallery, a collection of thirteen paintings, pastels and drawings from the Burrell Collection, supplemented by seven of the National Gallery’s own masterpieces.
The Burrell Collection in Glasgow has the largest collections of Degas artwork in the world, and the magnificent loan will be gracing the National Gallery’s walls until May 2018. This is the first time the entire Degas collection has made an outing from its Glaswegian home (the last time the shipping magnate Sir William Burrell loaned a Degas was in 1924 to the Tate in Millbank).
Degas is no stranger to the National Gallery. In 1918, armed with public funds to bid on modern art pieces in Paris, the National Gallery purchased thirteen Degas from the artist’s personal collection. You can see some of these rare gems in the ‘Drawn in Colour’ exhibition, or wander over to room 42 at the National Gallery to see the additional works.
Degas was a founding member of the Impressionists, although he preferred the term realist. He was famous for his paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures of dancers, bathers and horses, and he also liked to dip into photography.
The modern metropolis of Paris was dubbed the capital of the nineteenth century, and artificial light was changing the way artists dealt with their subjects. Degas was not interested in scenery: instead it was the world of ballet, theatre and opera that piqued his interest. He lived in the rehearsal rooms of the Opera Garnier where he studied the ballet dancers which would emerge as the stars of his powdery canvases.
Degas died at the age of 83, having had a long, successful and productive career. September 27 marks the centenary of his death.
‘The Rehearsal’ is the masterpiece of the Burrell collection and one of Degas’s first ballet paintings. Note how the centre of the composition is left empty, and you can just about catch the rooftops of Paris through the window. This painting was created around the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874.
Degas’s use of pastel is bold in the ‘The Red Ballet Skirts,’ produced in his later years. There’s a future-forward flavour of Picasso in this painting, don’t you think?
The exquisite, ‘Dancers on a Bench’ was created using tracing paper. Execution on this slippery medium would have been very difficult, but Degas met an Italian painter who shared a secret fixative recipe with him. Layers of pastel were built to create a crust, and the result is this luminous masterpiece.
Degas would have made thousands of sketches like these as an ‘aide-memoire’ for his compositions.
I promised you some horses, and here they are in Degas’s pastel masterpiece: ‘Jockeys in the Rain.’ Again, the artist leaves the centre forward area of the composition empty, a technique which may have been inspired from Japanese prints.
‘Drawn in Colour: Degas form the Burrell’ is on at the National Gallery from 20 September 2017 to 7 May 2018.
Admission is free.
The exhibition, which has been brilliantly curated by Julien Domercq, is housed in the Ground Floor Galleries. To protect the pastels, the hang is displayed across three darkened rooms. If you’re blind as a bat like I am, make sure you bring your specs with you!
Curator’s introduction 25 September 1-1.45pm. Free event (highly rcommended).
The music of Degas’s Dancers 27 September 1-2pm. The Florentine Arts Ensemble will explore the artist’s fascination with ballet through a programme which includes works by Stravinsky and Mendelssohn. Free Event.
Sir William Burrell and the Impressionists 2 October, 1-1.45pm. Free event
About the National Gallery
The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
Opening Times: Daily: 10.00 – 18.00 (to 21.00 on Fridays)
Want more Art in London? Read about Erotic Art in London.