ABC Wednesday: D is for Degas

Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917) was a French artist and is perhaps most well known for his paintings of dancers; ballerinas were his favourite subject:

This is The Dance Class, oil on canvas, 1874 (the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art). Here the dancers are in various poses at the end of a rehearsal. You can see the exhaustion on their faces and in their figures – see the girl at the front scratching her back, the girls at the back sunk to the floor, and the girl on the right, her arms folded, shoulders rounded and her head drooping down. I love the contrast between them and the rigid figure of the ballet master.Their flimsy tutus stand out so well against the hard diagonal floorboards.

I also like painting L’Absinthe, also called The Absinthe Drinker, A Sketch of a French Café,  or Figures at Café. It’s oil on canvas, 1876 (Musée D’Orsay). It’s a melancholy painting of a forlorn couple in the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes in Paris.

They are drowning their sorrows. She is drinking absinthe, ‘the Green Fairy’, a lethal drink that was later banned. She is seen staring into space, sad, and desolate, lost in her own world. He is also in his own world, detached, his head turned away from her, as though they aren’t together. Degas’s models for the painting were Ellen Andre, an actress and Marcellin Desboutin, an engraver and artist. They were both annoyed by the painting, which depicted them as alcoholics and Degas had to state publicly that they were not.

I like it just because it tells a tale. It is so expressive and the detail is so fine, the slump of her shoulders, her air of exhaustion and his desire not to be there come over to me so powerfully. It gives the impression that Degas painted this from real life, but actually he painted it in his studio, with the pair carefully posed.

An ABC Wednesday post.

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