Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Edgar Degas (France, 1834–1917)
Dancer at the Bar (Danseuse à la barre), c. 1885
Charcoal with pastel and white chalk on paper
12 ¼ x 9 ½ in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
Impressionist Edgar Degas is arguably best known for his numerous paintings and drawings of ballerinas. He produced more than 100 life drawings in the early-to-mid-1880s, and the vast majority remained in his studio until his death to be used in future paintings and sculptures as references to the poses and gestures. This pastel Dancer at the Bar (Danseuse à la barre) was clearly intended as a study, yet Degas cropped the ballerina’s right arm and left foot in the manner of a photograph, which was one of the hallmarks of Impressionism. Dancer at the Bar also demonstrates the nature of Degas’s process as he repeatedly refined the position of the right arm and leg and annotated the drawing with the phrase “plus noir la jambe” (“more black the leg”).
Degas’s attention to draughtsmanship and his concern for anatomy were largely the result of his training. Born into an aristocratic family, Degas abandoned the pursuit of a law career to attend classes at the École des Beaux-Arts and studied privately under Louis Lamothe, a pupil of the Neo-classical artist Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. In his academic study with Lamothe, Degas recognized the value of line and developed an appreciation for the integrity of form, and he could be critical of his fellow Impressionists for their abstract sensibilities. Committed as he was to the depiction of modern life, Degas continued to find value in academic principles, as he clearly demonstrated in Dancer at the Bar.