Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty

*Three Ballet Dancers (Trois danseuses)*

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas. Three Ballet Dancers (Trois danseuses). 1878

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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917). Three Ballet Dancers (Trois danseuses). c. 1878. Monotype on paper. Plate: 7 13/16 × 16 3/8″ (19.9 × 41.6 cm), sheet: 14 × 20 3/16″ (35.6 × 51.3 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Image © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA. Photo: Michael Agee

Narrator: Degas made the monotype on the left using what is called the dark-field technique. Conservator Karl Buchberg.

Jodi Hauptman: And it's amazing, I think, when you look closely what kind of detail he gets. He's using either a brush or rags or some people think the tutus were made by using a piece of gauze, because they have a little bit of texture, and his own fingers. And so you can really see how he's physically getting his hands dirty in making those figures emerge out of the darkness.

Narrator: The work on the right is the second impression of the same image, covered with pastel. In both works, Degas explores how to show a dancer leaping mid-air.

Jodi Hauptman: By wiping away the ink so the legs and the feet are so bright against this dark but very textured floor, they seem to be raised above it ... And I think similarly in the pastel version, he's using this very luminous pastel to distinguish the feet from the ground. Again, you get the sense of leaping up.

It wasn't that the one on the left was preparatory for the one on the right …You'll see that that interest in reproducing a motif, exploring it in different ways, changing it, varying it, becomes more and more important to him.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917). Three Ballet Dancers (Trois danseuses). c. 1878. Monotype on paper. Plate: 7 13/16 × 16 3/8″ (19.9 × 41.6 cm), sheet: 14 × 20 3/16″ (35.6 × 51.3 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Image © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA. Photo: Michael Agee
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