fine art


Edgar degAs- four dancers

The National Art Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. affords the opportunity to see work of history’s greatest artists. One painting that stood out was French artist Edgar Degas’ 1899 oil painting on canvas entitled, Four Dancers. The work is best attributed with the Impressionism era due to the quick brush strokes and the synergy of grainy integrated colors similar to work of fellow Frenchman Claude Monet. Nevertheless, the piece contains unique attributes setting it apart from other Impressionist works.

I was instantly drawn to the placement of the four ballet dancers, none of which were facing the plane of view. Dispersed in the left hand corner in varied positions, the premediatated strategy placing the dancers off center implies their movement as kinetic artists. The entire foreground is shifted to the left because of the composition’s form. Each dancer is depicted at a different angle, with dramatic arm gestures typical of ballet.

The brush strokes in the painting were rough and broad, specifically in the horizon line in the upper right of the picture as well as the ‘plant life’ directly behind and adjacent to the figures. The dancers were not, in fact, involved in a scene of nature but increasingly hazy blurs of landscape appear as a painted set backdrop. This is evidenced by use of light and saturated hue intensity that is regulated strictly to the performers.

Color is used brilliantly in Degas’ work. Non-naturally occurring highlights of cerulean, teal, and orange-red are used on the faces, backs, arms and hair that pop with energy in comparison to the somewhat drab hues of green, blue, and deep purples used in the backdrop. Brilliant bright tones of bright pink and red are used to attract the viewer to the dancers’ lipstick and clothing that covers the torso. This especially stands out as none of the figures’ faces are shown with defined facial features but rather highlights of shadows little organic detail. The four tutus seem to blend together. Depicted as yellow and blue billowy and ruffled fibers, the texture of the bottom portion the dancers wear is similar to how the painted landscape of flowers and leafy trees are shown yet with more dimension but no variance between all four.

The contours of the dancers frame and body are uniquely drawn with thick, scratchy black lines akin to those in rough sketches. Degas seems to invoke a sense of excitement and anxious energy with the conspicuous squiggly nature of the lined figures.  Not many harsh lines are used anywhere else as the sunset backdrop blends together in a way that could best be described as ambiguous. While the perspective of is not flat, there is also no fluid dimensional nuance, emphasizing the notion that this is self-realized and the dancers are in standing in front of a painting themselves.

The rolling hills in the mid- ground are painted with rough gradation that appears almost as thick stripes of grass at different altitudes, seen in sea foam and forest green. Grainy spackles of dark greens and gold flank the dancers to invoke a sense of growth and life brightest to the performing artists.

Although Four Dancers shares many qualities to other Impressionist works such as Mary Cassatt’s Woman In Black At The Opera, there are distinct deviances from the standard style. Degas is experimental with his use of color and line, both of which resemble the Fauvism style that was yet to take off. Both works have the main figures in an atmosphere of performing art placed prominently in the foreground on one side but while Cassatt attempts to depict naturalistic elements of light and anatomic correctness with color, Degas chooses to provoke response by using teal and grey in flesh as well as harsh, squiggly black lines to contain his figures. Four Dancers has mainly Impressionist qualities yet Edgar Degas makes distinct artistic choices to transcend the style.