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Dancers in the wings
Charcoal and pastel on paper
Bequeathed by Lillian Browse, 2005, received 2006
Degas's work of the 1890s and the 1900s was dominated by images of dancers. The majority were executed as large-scale drawings in charcoal or pastel, often on tracing paper, and show dancers off-stage, resting, stretching, or slumped with exhaustion in the wings. He increasingly developed these as families of works in which he repeatedly reworked a single pose, or series of poses, within a group. The figures in this composition were explored in a sequence of charcoal and pastel drawings over a period of around twelve years, between 1893 and c.1905; Degas also recreated the pose of the left-hand dancer as a sculpture. The relatively sketchy addition of pastel over the legs shows clearly how the figures have been developed from earlier nude studies.
In her pioneering study, Degas dancers (1949), the donor of this drawing, Lillian Browse, pointed out that this concern for continuity was central to Degas's work in his later years: his interest lay not in 'arrested movement - the frozen gestures of a film suddenly stopped or the split second between one off-balance position and the next,' she wrote, but in 'the continuous progression of a form passing from one attitude to another, so that all is told of what has gone before as well as what will follow.'