Overview

Degas studied his preferred subject, ballet performers, in hundreds of works. Four Dancers, one of the largest and most ambitious of his late works, exists in several variants that show different kinds and degrees of modification. While Degas suppressed descriptive detail elsewhere in the painting, emphatic dark lines shape the heads and arms, underlining the artist's formal concerns. Theatrical lighting over the off–stage performers recolors the figures and creates a simple color scheme of complementary red–orange and green hues.

Two of the figures repeat poses of a model who appears in a unique set of three photographic negatives. Shot between about 1895 and 1898, the original plates solarized into colors that resemble, in reverse, the oranges and greens in Four Dancers. Degas owned the photographic plates and may even have taken the pictures. The same model, hair piled on her head and features indistinct or hidden, posed for all three photographs, and the four dancers in the painting resemble her. Eadward Muybridge’s sequential photographs may also have influenced the arrangement of the four dancers, particularly his 1887 book, Animal Locomotion. Their poses, a succession of preparatory gestures, depict a progression of intricate movements.

Inscription

lower right with atelier stamp: Degas

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas [1830-1917], Paris, France; (Degas sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 6 May 1918, no. 10); purchased by (Trotti et Cie., Paris). Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhagen. (Galerie Barbazanges, Paris). (Durand-Ruel, Paris); sold November 1931 to Chester Dale [1882-1962], New York; bequest 1963 to NGA.[1]

Exhibition History

1928
Cent Ans de Peinture Française, E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam, 1928, no. 27
1965
The Chester Dale Bequest, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965, unnumbered checklist.
1984
Degas: The Dancers, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1984-1985, no. 49, repro.
2010
From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, January 2010-January 2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro.

Bibliography

1918
Lafond, Paul. Degas. Paris, 1918:77, repro.
1930
Art News 28 (26 April 1930):repro
1941
Catalogue of French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 7, repro. pl. XIII
1942
French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 39, repro.
1944
French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1944: 39, repro.
1944
Jewell, Edward Alden. French Impressionists and their Contemporaries Represented in American Collections. New York, 1944: repro. 184.
1946
Lemoisne, Paul André. Degas et son oeuvre. 4 vols. Paris: Arts et metiers graphiques, 1946-1949. Vols. 2 and 3, 1946. Reprinted in 5 vols., New York and London, 1984.
1953
French Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1953: 48, repro.
1959
Evans, Grose. French Painting of the 19th Century in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959 (Booklet Number Two in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 32, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 264, repro.
1965
Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Paintings & Sculpture of the French School in the Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 78, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 39
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 32, repro.
1970
Minervino, Fiorella. L'opera completa di Degas. Milan, 1970: no. 1112, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 98, repro.
1977
Reft, T. "Degas: A Master Among Artists." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Spring 1977): unpaginated, repro.
1979
Watson, Ross. National Gallery of Art. London, 1979: 116, pl. 102, color repro.
1980
Kelder, Diane. The Great Book of French Impressionism. New York, 1980: 284, 306, 435, repro.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 476, no. 702, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 120, repro.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 239-240, 242, color repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 205, repro.
1995
Stuckey, Charles F. Claude Monet 1840-1926. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 1995:221, repro.
1996
Kendall, Richard. Beyond Impressionism. Yale University Press, 1996:28, 38, 112, 119, repro.
1997
Kelder, Diane. The Great Book of French Impressionism, 1997, no. 271, repro.
1999
Vogel, Carol. "Finding Fashion and History on th Edges: Museums Look Again at Their Picture Frames." New York Times (September 2, 1999): C1, C3.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: book jacket back, 377, no. 311, color repros.

Conservation Notes

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