Danseuse rajustant sa sandale is a fine example of Degas' late pastels depicting a ballet dancer preparing for a performance. The artist's lifelong interest in dance developed in the 1860s, when as a young man he regularly attended the ballet and other performances such as opera, café-concerts and the circus. Degas was attracted to the spectacle and excitement of live entertainment and found in it an endless source of inspiration, sketching the performers from nature. In this manner he was able to study both the natural unguarded gestures of dancers at rest and the stylised movements of classical ballet. Degas was fascinated not only by the public spectacle of ballet performances, but also by the more informal situations around them: the behind-the-scenes world of the rehearsal room or the dance class, the dancers' preparation for and tension before a performance, and the more relaxed, casual moments that followed afterwards.
Throughout Degas' career, his treatment of this subject underwent a radical metamorphosis. In the later decades, the artist's visits to the ballet became less frequent and he began working increasingly from models in his studio in the rue Victor Massé. Whereas visits to the ballet had only afforded Degas fleeting demonstrations of the dancers' choreographed movements, the privacy of the studio presented him with the opportunity to pose a model in his preferred way. It was at this time that he began to work in series, a practice which opened up a wealth of creative possibilities. In the late 1890s, he executed several versions (fig. 1), including the present work, of the dancer adjusting her ballet shoes in preparation for a performance.
Degas has been fascinated with this theme since the earlier days of his career, and executed some remarkable early pastels (fig. 2). In his works of the 1890s, however, Degas' focus moved away from the linear, towards a new interest in colour, and the present work is a magnificent example of his newly found freedom of expression. The success of Degas' late pastels of dancers and their importance in the artist's œuvre was acknowledged by John Rewald: 'In his [...] important pastels of dancers and nudes, he was gradually reducing the emphasis on line in order to seek the pictorial. Resorting to ever more vibrant colour effects, he found in his pastels a means to unite line and colour. While every pastel stroke became a colour accent, its function in the whole was often not different from that of the impressionist brush stroke. His pastels became multicoloured fireworks where all precision of form disappeared in favour of a texture that glittered with hatchings' (J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, p. 566).
Degas depictions of dancers were often first drawn nude and subsequently 'clothed' in the worked up pastels with tutus, shoes and other dancing paraphernalia, examples of which Degas kept in the studio. From these initial studies Degas would construct a dramatic and vivid scene without leaving the privacy of the studio. Furthermore, he often studied various poses of the dancers in sculpture, and used them as a basis for his compositions in pastel and oil. In Danseuse rajustant sa sandale the dancer appears to be deeply immersed in thought as she prepares to go on stage, surrounded by the lavishly painted folds of her dress.
This work is being offered pursuant to an agreement between the heir of Carl Henry Newman and the present owner.
Pastel on paper
London, Grafton Galleries, Pictures by Boudin, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet. Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, exhibited by Messrs. Durand-Ruel and Sons, 1905, no. 74
Hamburg, Kunsthalle (on loan 1920-26)
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Aus Hamburgischem Privatbesitz, 1925
54.6 by 37cm. 21 1/2 by 14 1/2 in.
Paul-André Lemoisne, Degas et son oeuvre, Paris, 1946, vol. III, no. 1238, illustrated p. 723
Franco Russoli & Fiorella Minervino, L'Opera completa di Degas, Milan, 1970, no. 1087, illustrated p. 135
Private Schätze: über das Sammeln von Kunst in Hamburg bis 1933 (exhibition catalogue), Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, 2001, illustrated p. 57
Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above in May 1902)
Moline Collection, Paris (acquired from the above in March 1909)
Henry Percy Newman, Hamburg (acquired by 1912)
Marie Newman, Hamburg & Berlin (by descent from the above in 1917; placed in storage with Deutsche Bank in 1940)
Carl Henry Newman (by descent from the above)
Removed from Deutsche Bank in Berlin during the Soviet Occupation in 1945
Irma Suorninca, Finland (sale: Sotheby's, London, 22nd March 1961, lot 78)
C. Michael Paul, Palm Beach
Raymonde I. Paul, New York (by descent from the above)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (a gift from the above in 1982. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 13th May 1986, lot 34)
Purchased at the above sale by the previous owner