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This small sculpture depicts a woman caught unawares in an unusual pose. It is an example of Edgar Degas’s interest in suggesting, through unconventional viewpoints, the character of the modern age.
Sculpture was essentially a private and exploratory practice for Degas; he constantly remade and refined, varying poses, weight distribution and size as part of an obsessive private experiment. Degas made an enormous number of clay and wax figures that he never cast in bronze.
Upon his death, some 150 sculptures were discovered in his studio, but only around 70 were found complete and undamaged. From 1919 to 1936, a limited edition of bronze casts was made from these figures, the majority of which were dancers, many of them nude.
Edgar Degas has been traditionally associated with the French Impressionists of the late nineteenth century, a group of artists who favoured new ways of recording modern life. Like many artists of his time, Degas looked to the leisure activities of the French middle class for his subject matter, which ranged from horseracing and ballet dancers to cafe and working-class scenes.
While he exhibited with the Impressionists, he was not formally part of the group and their technical innovations, which were more concerned with linear and compositional issues. Also a printmaker and sculptor, Degas’s drafting skills and delicate balance of colour ensure he is considered one of the great painters of this era.
Although he claimed disdain for Japonisme in later life, he made no secret of his admiration for Japanese prints, and was one of the first French artists to collect ukiyo-e woodblock prints in the mid 1860s.
Degas was also a keen photographer and later turned largely to sculpture. Sculpture was essentially a private and exploratory practice for Degas; he constantly remade and refined, varying poses, weight distribution and size as part of an obsessive private experiment. Upon his death, some 150 sculptures were discovered in his studio, with only around 70 complete.
1. How does a sculpture help you get a better sense of form by looking at it from different angles?
2. Degas has captured a dancer in an everyday moment. Analyse the form of the pose. How does this pose suggest the character of the modern age?
1. Where do we see sculptures in our everyday lives (for example, mannequins, religious icons, ornamental figurines and public art)? Draw a sculpture that you have seen in a store, park, your home, or in a gallery or museum, and give it a title.
2. Create a series of quick, gestural drawings of a figure, taking two to three minutes to complete each drawing. Use line and contour to capture the shape, action and movement of the figure. Using clay, create a three-dimensional form by modelling a figure in action, caught in a moment in time.