Posted by: ktzefr | October 19, 2011

Dancing with Degas and Dining with Renoir…

Last Saturday I went to see the Degas dancers at the Phillips Collection (DEGAS Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint).  The exhibition has about 30 masterpieces from collections around the world.  My favorites (shown below): Dancers at the Barre and Rehearsal in the foyer of the Opera.  I like the powder-blue dresses against the bright orange background in the first and the “caught in the moment” feel of the Rehearsal.  But this painting was really not quite caught in the moment.  The Rehearsal was fused from many isolated studies Degas had composed of individual dancers in various poses.  This reminded me of the writing process, from first draft through edits and revisions, the combination of facts and truths and imagination, to the final “new” product. 

The Degas Dancers


I left the exhibit thinking that, as much as I like the dancers, I didn’t connect with them.  I’ve never been a ballet dancer, but I don’t think that matters.  There was something else.  Degas was obsessed with observing ordinary life, and some of his other works — Diego Martelli, for example, or the Bellelli Family, or Madame Rene De Gas — seem more inviting.  I could imagine walking into the Bellelli’s parlor or stopping to say hello to the lonely woman in L’absinthe.  But the dancers?  Their faces are expressionless; there’s no story.   Of course, I was looking for it in the wrong places.  In Degas words: “People call me the painter of dancers, but I really wish to capture movement itself.”  Now, that’s another story.


Before leaving the museum I had to stop by for a moment at one of my favorite paintings of all time and one of  the greatest paintings in the world.  For years I had a framed copy on our dining room wall.  It left one day at a yard sale.  I hadn’t grown tired of it but thought a change was in order.  So, to spend some time with the Luncheon of the Boating Party was like visiting an old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.   The Renoir original is massive — 51 1/4 x 69 1/8 inches — and it’s been at the Phillips since 1923.   When I look at it I feel as if I could walk right into the scene and sit down at the table with friends. 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party"


(This photo was taken from an art book as picture-taking is not allowed in the gallery, thus the tiny vertical crease.)  (Visit the DEGAS Dancers at the Barre at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC from October 1, 2011 through January 8, 2012.)

Do you have a favorite painting?  What makes it special?


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