Dancer with a Fan


Edgar Degas ( French, 1834 - 1917 )

c. 1879
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General Description

Beginning in 1871, Edgar Degas repeatedly depicted the ballerinas of the Paris Opera. Whether solitary or seen in groups, on or off stage, his dancers stretch, pose, perform, and rehearse. Degas strove to break down the movements of his subjects, capturing them frozen in difficult positions, awkward poses, and unguarded moments. Here a young dancer is caught in a moment of quiet reflection in one of the opera’s classrooms. Typical of Degas’s daring compositions is the unusual viewpoint: the figure is set off center, and the diagonal lines of the floorboards produce a dramatically plunging perspective. Equally innovative is Degas’s technique. He likely moistened areas of the pastel with steam in order to turn the powdery pigment into a wet paste that could be reworked with a paintbrush, a technique probably used here to suggest light reflecting on the floor. Speaking about her first visit to Omaha, Nebraska, Margaret McDermott observed, “Art can bring new vistas, experiences, friendships, travel. Degas did so for me [as] the Dancer with a Fan was invited to Omaha. . . . The weekend brought a warm welcome from the museum staff and trustees; excitement at how my Dancer looked in the fine exhibit; and meeting the mayor of Omaha, the governor of Nebraska, and Warren Buffet’s sister at a reception. All courtesy of Degas!”