Flowing; Degas: 100 Years of Ballet, Bathing and Bodies

By Jo Phillips

It’s the centenary of the death of Edgar Degas.

degas 3 _opt
Blue Dancers
Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia
25.59 in x 25.59 in

Degas exhibited paintings along with the Impressionists, yet refused to fall under their house-style. Always maintaining his independence and individual way of looking, the artist is responsible for some of the most recognisable works in the history of art, and for good reason. His attention to detail, painstaking draftsmanship and move away from the traditional academies of Europe and their insistence on history painting and mythology solidifies his importance.

While Degas is recognised as one of the most significant and influential painters of the Impressionist period, in recent times his work has been questioned and in some cases derided by feminist art critics. It’s often postulated that his work (particularly the intimate scenes of the bathers) is voyeuristic and objectifying. It’s hard to fan this thought away, particularly when the artist himself fanned the flames by stating that he wanted to capture the bathers as though through a keyhole. Indeed, Degas is prime territory for writings on the ‘male gaze’.

Check out our article on the ‘female gaze’ here.

So how do we look at Degas today?

We look at him the way we look at Picasso – we divorce the work from the person. Of the seven most important women in Picasso’s life, 2 killed themselves and 2 went mad. His polygamy and maltreatment of ‘his women’ is well documented. But, we shouldn’t boycott all those masterpieces because of his personal life. The same goes for Degas. Appreciate the use of colour, the composition, the light, the emotion, the grandeur of it all.

Degas _opt
After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself
Pastel on wove paper laid on millboard
103.5 x 98.5 cm

degas 9_optThe Tub
Pastel on card
60 x 83 cm

degas 3_opt
After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself
Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper

Degas 10_opt

Princeton University Art Museum
Drawing, pastel

degas 6 _opt
Dance Class
Oil on canvas
32 7/8 x 30 3/8 in

This June it’s ‘Flowing’ month here at Cent, so why not indulge in some Ballet? Here are our top picks.

Royal Ballet – The Dream / Symphonic Variations / Marguerite and Armand

8-10 June


Sadler’s Wells – Horror – Jakop Ahlbom Company

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