Ballet: the art of perfection


“Ballerinas quivering en pointe in the limelight, shoes shining, tutus gauzy, roses blossoming in their hair.”

Royal Academy of Arts 17 September – 11 December 2011


This landmark exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts focuses on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance. His progressive engagement with the figure paralleled with the advancement in photography allowed him to tackle the subject of dance in a way that has transcended art history and is still relevant to the modern art world today. Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement traces the development of the artist's ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years. The artist's highly original methods of viewing and recording dance can be seen in his paintings, sculptures, pastels, drawings, prints and photographs.

Some of the highlights of the exhibition include the celebrated sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, which is displayed alongside Degas' preparatory drawings. As well as Three Dancers (1903) built up using pastel and fixative in glowing layers of dot and swipe that resemble Jackson Pollock 50 years in advance. Degas doesn't even confine himself to one kind of mark-making per image. Photographic details are transcribed. Poses are recycled.

The Royal Academy's mesmerising Degas show begins and ends with the artist himself: dark-eyed and wary at the door in a lifesize photograph. Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas was born in Paris in 1834. After studying briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he travelled through Italy, teaching himself by copying works of art in museums and churches. A leader of the Impressionists, he regularly exhibited at their group shows.


In between are more than 40 years of ballet dancers shifting through a thousand different positions, depicted from every angle, in one ever-changing performance. Yet it is not the dancers but the artist one seeks to hold fast, to grasp the mystery and greatness of his work.

 So it is with this tremendous show, each work imagining the physical life – the inner stress – of the dancer. What it is to balance on one toe or lean precariously close to the floor; what it is to hold a leg at shoulder height or twist until your muscles nearly snap: this is what his images express. Degas goes far beyond observation, as if willing himself into the body of his dancers.

Some of's artists with a flare for dance:


Charlotte Mclaughlin


Oil on canvas





STARK- Untitled 04

Jerome Rapin








Leah Michelle