Edgar Degas and his Silent Ballerinas
Degas was a genius. His artwork went viral, and his paintings haunt the halls of famous museums like the MET and the Musée d’Orsay. Degas believed that an artist should remain mysterious, and essentially die alone. He crept the halls of theatres and found his inspiration through young ballerinas training to become famous dancers. The sketches to me are the most significant. They show every pointy bone on the girl’s bodies, symbolizes their youth and innocence. Ballerinas are meaningful art to an era that held such poverty and starvation, because it wasn’t the wealthy and capable who became dancers- but the starving and needy. This all procreates the dark and twisted message I believe Degas was trying to send to society. These young ballerinas were the essence of purity, which unfortunately made them targets for the ones with the power. These young girls suffered endlessly from sexual harassment. Men with money ran the ballets to purposely hide behind the curtains. Degas was an authentic artist, and saw the beauty and the horror.
The 1860s were a very segregated era. Aristocracy was dominant, and physiognomy was influential. The ones who would critique and wander around art galleries were the ones who happened to be the guiltiest of the silent crimes that inspired Degas. It’s vividly clear that his artwork portrayed the darkness he saw while observing what goes on behind the scenes. Degas is famously known to be a reputable pervert obsessed with young girls. In a society that is solely based on simplicity, it makes sense that people would point the finger at Degas – but they are mistaken. Degas wanted the men who walked a little too proudly, and saw these little girls as potential prey, to have their ghost stare at them in the face. He hung their guilt on his art gallery walls like relics from the crimes he witnessed. He sketched the innocence of young girls who would give anything to feed their families. Despite his best efforts, not many people saw what message Degas was trying to send. His art still hangs on the walls of famous galleries, giving us all chills because no one seems to want to reminisce how twisted the Bourgeoisie can be.
His sketches are the most haunting. He drew pointy bones, and faces that were pushed over their limits. He saw beauty in the dancers’ pain, and wanted them to be seen hurting. It was no luxury to be a ballerina, which is why I think Degas became so obsessed. The DANSE– USE RAJUSTANT SON CHAUSSON (1834 – 1917), pictured above, is the perfect example of a storytelling sketch because of how it has such a sad looking girl in a beautiful gown. She is wrapped in clothes that she most likely couldn’t afford, and represents a doll for the upper class. Her face isn’t even shown, highlighting how little identity each of these ballerinas had. Degas always seemed to incorporate ribbon into his artwork, because it was a common symbol for all ballerinas at the time. When I think of ribbon, I visualize something cheap and overused. That is how I perceived ballerinas at the time. Cut into uniform sizes, and used over and over again. Ballerinas wrapped ribbon in their hair, trying to mask the physiognomy. Their faces read poverty and starvation; it was very black and white. The men who crept behind the curtains also didn’t mask their physiognomy because they already had all the power. The silent ballerinas had to keep whatever happened to them to their selves, because none of them could afford to speak up. Degas found his inspiration in physiognomy. He also frequently visited courtrooms and offices, other natural habitats to the guilty and dishonest. His sketches felt raw. Analyzing the DANSE– USE RAJUSTANT SON CHAUSSON creates the allegory of his whole mantra.
The sketch recently sold for 4.5 million British Pounds. The most amazing part of his whole persona is the money. The way people threw it around so meaningless says it all. The ones with the power spent such large amounts of money for paintings of girls who couldn’t even afford a loaf of bread. Society has always managed to turn away from those in need, yet we always seem to go to them for inspiration and art. It seems to mean a lot for people when others are suffering. Equally, I think it says a lot that we still hang the skeletal suffering ballerinas on our priceless museum walls.