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Dancer (Battement in Second Position)

Dancer (Battement in Second Position), 1874

Edgar Degas
French, 1834-1917
Charcoal heightened with white and pale yellow pastel, on gray-brown laid paper (watermark "Michallet")
17-3/4 x 11-7/8 in. (45 x 30.2 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

After halfheartedly studying law to please his upper-middle-class parents, Edgar Degas enrolled at the venerable École des Beaux-Arts, the official French arts academy. In the classroom, at the Louvre and on trips abroad, the young Degas continued the standard course of study, copying Italian Old Masters and French classical art. During these years, he developed a superb command of drawing, a fundamental skill that lay at the heart of his 60-year career. This drawing is an exquisite example of his draftsmanship: swift, confident strokes of black charcoal define the position of the dancer, and wisps of white and yellow pastel emphasize both volume and light. Although the work was chosen by the artist as one of the 20 most important examples of his drawing through 1896, the grid lines remind us that it was originally intended as a study. Variants of this figure can be found in at least four of his canvases.

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