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Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
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What was it about dancers that so captivated Edgar Degas? What made him almost base his career around capturing of them at work and at rest? More than half of this renowned artist's work depicts dancers – but, before you suggest it, it wasn't their lithe figures that he loved, it was their movement. Degas loved to capture movement and this is one of the things that makes his work so worth booking tickets to and travelling to see.

Which you'll be able to do between the 17th of September and the 11th of December if you live in or around London, as the Royal Academy is hosting an exhibition that focuses on this half of his work called Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement. The exhibition traces Degas' progression as an artist, as he explores ways of capturing movement, from the documentary style of his earlier work to the more sensuous and expressive tone of his later work.

What's particularly interesting, seeing as Degas is so well known for his dancers, is that this is the first exhibition mounted in the UK using the theme of dance as a basis for selecting the works. But it's the fact that these are Degas' most popular paintings that has made it so difficult to loan enough of the best pieces for this exhibition.

As well as presenting his work chronologically, this exhibition also presents Degas' art alongside the burgeoning technologies of photography and film as they were coinciding. Which was something that Degas himself was very aware of, hence the contrast of his emotional style. Degas saw humans as being isolated creatures, so his works on movement have also captured many moments of seeming intimacy where the onlooker, like the artist, feels like the outsider. Which is another thing his paintings of dancers are well known for.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
You might not think it today, but some of Degas' work was at the time of its conception, considered controversial. His sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, is on display here, and though it's now been cast in bronze it was originally made in wax and displayed wearing a real tutu and ballet slippers and wearing a wig of real human hair. It caused quite a stir, like the Tracey Emin bed of the day.

One of the other great things about Degas' work is that many of his paintings promise narratives within their single scenes. There's so much to read into what you see, so many different characters and different relationships that you can easily find yourself lost in his art – pondering what her glance really means and what's going on behind her eyes and under his hand. So even if you're usually more of a literary person you should find plenty here to explore.
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Why? The moving art of movement
When: 10am–6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm) Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30 pm) Saturdays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm)
Where: The Royal Academy Burlington House Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD
Cost: £14 Price includes £2.50 gallery guide.
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