Edgar DEGAS, Grande arabesque, troisième temps [Grand arabesque, 3rd position] Enlarge 1 /3
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On display on Level 2

Edgar DEGAS

France 1834 – 1917

Grande arabesque, troisième temps [Grand arabesque, 3rd position] [Dancer] 1880s Creation Notes: bronze cast 1926, wax executed c.1880-90
Materials & Technique: sculptures, bronze with red and brown patina Edition: from an edition of 22 cast 1926

Primary Insc: signed, numbered and stamped with foundry mark 'Degas 16/K A.A HEBRARD CIRE PERDUE' (Lugt 658; on the top of the base)
Dimensions: overall 40.3 h x 55.5 w x 33.5 d cm
Acknowledgement: Funded by the Bequest of Tony Gilbert AM 2013
Accession No: NGA 2013.4047
Provenance:
  • Galerie Flechtheim, Düsseldorf, 12 July 1926;
  • M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York;
  • from whom acquired by private collector, c.1955;
  • by descent, private collector, New York;
  • from whom bought, at auction Christie’s New York, 8 May 2013 (lot 3), by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Edgar Degas’s signature theme is the ballet: forty of the seventy-four sculptures modelled by him in the 1880s and 1890s are dancers. These figures are much admired for their naturalism and range of poses, and Grand arabesque, 3rd position is considered one of the most lively and graceful of them all. The dancer leans forward, with arms outstretched and her leg extended upwards. The artist captures the final, extreme third position—a moment of balance, the peak of tension between ‘submission to gravity’ and escape from it.

Degas used his sculptures as models for his drawings, in preparation for his pastels and paintings and to supplement his studio sessions with a life model. His figures are often compared with Eadweard Muybridge’s stop action photographs of animal and human movement; indeed, the photographs may even have provided inspiration.

Degas’s approach to sculpture, and the physical practicalities of sculpting, was quixotic, as his friend Albert Bartholomé wrote despairingly:

That devil of a man wants to sculpt but does not want to apply himself to the necessities of sculpture. In order to make a sculpture solid, it must rest on a rational substructure, without which there will come a time where everything will fall apart. I cannot drum this into his head. If an arm is off balance and it risks falling off, he puts a match-stick there!

The artist’s own comments are equivocal, questioning the need to ‘fix’ his sculpture in time and revealing ambivalence about posterity. Although he exhibited only one three-dimensional work in his lifetime, Degas did have three of his wax sculptures cast in plaster between 1900 and 1903. The majority, however, remained unknown until after his death when his heirs authorised the production of a series of bronzes. Casting began in 1919—the first compete sets were exhibited in Paris 1921 and New York in 1922—and continued to 1937, with more than 1700 bronzes produced. This exquisite dancer was cast using a brass, copper and tin alloy, with a warm red and brown patina applied. It was produced under the direction of Parisian founder Adrien-Aurélien Hébrard in 1926 and issued in the ‘K’ series. Grand arabesque, 3rd position makes manifest Auguste Renoir’s claim that Degas was the ‘greatest living sculptor’.

Grand arabesque, 3rd position was acquired with funds from the generous bequest of Tony Gilbert AM. He is best known for his philanthropic support of the Bell Shakespeare Company. The family wealth—originally from the automobile trade, a car dealership and bus lines—was applied to shrewd investments. Gilbert developed a taste for antiques, books and fine art. In 1998, he gave the National Gallery a Rodin bronze from his collection; the sculpture is a study for the figure of Eustache de Saint Pierre for the Burghers of Calais. The choice of a Degas dancer, then, seems a fitting tribute for a benefactor with interests in European sculpture and connections to the theatre.

Lucina Ward Curator, International Painting and Sculpture


in artonview, issue 76, Summer 2013

The ballet is Edgar Degas’ signature theme: 40 of the 74 sculptures that he modelled in the 1880s and 90s are dancers. These figures are much admired for their naturalism and range of poses, and Grand arabesque, third position is considered one of the most lively and graceful of them all. The dancer leans forward, her leg extended upwards with arms outstretched, as the artist captures the final, extreme third position as a moment of balance, the peak of tension between ‘submission to gravity’ and escape from it.

Degas used his sculptures as models for his drawings, in preparation for his pastels and paintings, and to supplement his studio sessions with a life model. He had a quixotic approach to the physical practicalities of sculpting, and he was ambivalent about his sculpture. He exhibited only one three-dimensional work in his lifetime, but he had three of his wax sculptures cast in plaster between 1900 and 1903. The majority of Degas’ figures, however, remained unknown until after his death, when his heirs authorised the production of a series of bronzes; casting began in 1919 and continued until 1937, with more than 1700 bronzes produced. Auguste Renoir declared Degas to be the ‘greatest living sculptor’ of his time and his bronzes continue to be held in high regard.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014