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Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement - RA

Edgar Degas. La Danse Grecque (Dancing Ballerinas), 1885-90. Pastel on joined paper laid down on board, 580 x 490 mm. On loan from the Honorable Earle I. Mack Collection.

Exhibition preview

FROM SEPTEMBER 17 to December 11, 2011, the Royal Academy of Arts will stage a landmark exhibition focusing on Edgar Degas’ preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance.

Entitled Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement, it will trace the development of the artist’s ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years.

The exhibition will be the first to present Degas’ progressive engagement with the figure in movement in the context of parallel advances in photography and early films; indeed, the artist was keenly aware of these technological developments and often directly involved with them.

The exhibition will comprise around 85 paintings, sculptures, pastels, drawings, prints and photography by Degas, as well as photographs by his contemporaries and examples of early film.

It will bring together selected material from public institutions and private collections in Europe and North America, including both celebrated and little-known works by Degas.

Highlights of the exhibition will include such masterpieces as the celebrated sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1880-81, cast. c.1922, Tate, London), which will be displayed with a group of outstanding preparatory drawings that together show the artist tracking around his subject like a cinematic eye.

Also Dancer Posing for a Photograph (1875, Pushkin State Museum of Art, Moscow); Dancer on Pointe (c. 1877-78, Private collection); The Dance Lesson (c.1879, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC); Dancers in a Rehearsal Room with a Double Bass (c. 1882-85, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and Three Dancers (c. 1903, Beyeler Foundation, Basel).

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement will explore the fascinating links between Degas’ highly original way of viewing and recording the dance and the inventive experiments being made at the same time in photography by Jules-Etienne Marey and Eadweard Muybridge and in film-making by such pioneers as the Lumiere brothers.

By presenting the artist in this context, the exhibition will demonstrate that Degas was far more than merely the creator of beautiful images of the ballet, but instead a modern, radical artist who thought profoundly about visual problems and was fully attuned to the technological developments of his time.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas was born in Paris in 1834. His father was a banker from a Neapolitan family and his mother a French Creole from New Orleans. After studying briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Degas travelled in Italy, largely teaching himself by copying works of art in museums and churches.

From 1865 to 1870, he regularly submitted large historical compositions to the Salon, but in around 1870 he began to concentrate on subjects from modern life, including the dance.

A leader of the Impressionists, Degas exhibited regularly at their group exhibitions. Apart from the dance, racehorses and bathing women were his principal subjects. Increasing blindness forced Degas to give up working in around 1912. He died in Montmartre in 1917.

The Royal Academy will publish a sumptuous catalogue to accompany the exhibition. In this significant contribution to the literature on the artist, the renowned Degas scholars Richard Kendall and Jill DeVonyar will explore the principal themes of the exhibition.

Degas and the Ballet Gallery

Admission: £14 full price; £13 Registered Disabled and 60+ years; £9 NUS/ISIC cardholders; £4 12-18 years and Income Support; £3 8-11 years; 7 and under free; RA Friends go free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission 5.30pm), Fridays and Saturdays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD

Tel: 020 7300 8000

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century is on display at the Royal Academy of Arts until October 2, 2011.