Last Friday Liz, my neighbour, and I visited “Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement” which is at the R.A.A. until 11th Dec. I’d been to an excellent talk by co-curator, Ann Dumas, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival the week before and had been intrigued to hear about the negotiations which had taken place with foreign galleries in order to loan and transport some of the works of art. As many of Degas studies were in pastel each picture had to be packed in three airtight containers and their surface checked by microscope on arrival. In order to set the exhibition in context the curators also wanted to borrow examples of early cameras and Ann Dumas told how one of the cameras was to be borrowed from the Museum of the Moving Image in Bradford but the paperwork involved in its loan was so great that in the end a camera came from a keen collector in Holland who was so eager to help that he suggested that it be sent to London by post!
However, back to the visit. Liz and I shared an audio guide which was very informative and viewed the completed pictures and studies of the ballerinas both in rehearsal and performance and most interestingly studies for his series of wax models for “The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” and several others of the arabesque movement. In many you can see where Degas had sketched different arm or leg positions trying to capture the movement. One room of the exhibition showed early photography and how Degas, who at first spurned the camera, became a keen photographer and was influenced by early photographic techniques. It showed panoramic photographs of Paris and suggested that these had influenced Degas to paint wider scenes of the ballet.
We staggered out two and a half hours later and set off towards Covent Garden to get something to eat. Suitably sustained we strolled around and I discovered for the first time “Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop”: a treasure trove of toy theatres, puppets and old fashioned toys even advent calendars without chocolates behind the doors. Exploring the shop seemed to take us full circle back to Degas and the ballet.
Although the next East exhibition is called “Making a Point” Degas will not feature in my work although I do quite fancy making a theatre!! "The Rehearsal" Edgar Degas c.1874 oil on canvas