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Degas delights at the Royal Academy

The double doors creak open onto a chilly, darkened room which is eerily hushed despite holding many people. The whirring of an old film reel alerts you to the moving silhouette of a dancer in arabesque above. This is the entrance to the Royal Academy’s latest exhibition and sets the scene for the beautiful whirlwind of an journey to come.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Great rooms, the perfect size for a ballet class, house Degas’ famous studio scenes alongside his endless sketches of ballerinas in a variety of positions. The exhibition highlights how Degas captured movement in his art and this is extremely evident in the second gallery where the famous Little Dancer Aged Fourteen poses. Unknown to most admirers of this playful statue, Degas drew the statue from every possible angle and the results displayed on the circular walls of the academy create a dizzying and never ending moving picture.

The exhibition is less about the pictures as I had imagined and more about the artist himself. Visitors gain a real insight into Degas and are left with an appreciation for where Degas gained inspiration from and also about how he lived his life and how it ended. The exhibition rather poignantly ends with a short video of a nearly blind Degas being filmed walking slowly down a Parisien street.

Degas’ work concentrates on the backstage element of ballet – the classes, the rehearsals and the anguish of dancers as they strive for perfection. Rather than immortalising the perfection of dancers on the stage as many artists would, he is fascinated with the process to reach perfection. This process is mirrored in his own work. Every one of his paintings and sculptures is preceded by dozens of sketches of the dancers as Degas tried to perfect his depictions in much the same way a dancer practices each position.

The exhibition is well worth a visit. Housed in the beautiful Royal Academy, it is a surprisingly traquil oasis in the manic surroundings of Piccadilly. Visitors have the oppurtunity to purchase Degas themed merchandise and some beautiful books on his work and ballet more generally.


Exhibition details:

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement

17th September – 11th December

Royal Academy of Arts


Adults: £14, Students: £9, Children under 7: free



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