Russian Dancer

Edgar Degas (French, Paris 1834–1917 Paris)

Pastel over charcoal on tracing paper
24 3/8 x 18 in. (61.9 x 45.7 cm)
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    In 1899 Degas produced a series of compositions devoted to Russian dancers in which he fused color, line, and interlocking forms to create tapestry-like pictures. Degas called them his "orgies of color." This figure was excerpted from a fully developed pastel of the same year (private collection), but the present work was almost certainly made by Degas as an independent drawing intended for ready sale. Another work from the series is in the Metropolitan’s Robert Lehman collection (1975.1.166).

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower left): Degas

  • Provenance

    [Ambroise Vollard, Paris, until 1906; sold May or June 1906 to Havemeyer]; Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, New York (1906–his d. 1907); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (1907–d. 1929; cat., 1931, pp. 185–86, ill.)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. Grolier Club. "Prints, Drawings and Bronzes by Degas," January 26–February 28, 1922, no. 82 (as "Danseuse espagnole en jupe rose," probably this picture).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection," March 10–November 2, 1930, no. 154 [2nd ed., 1958, no. 124].

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas in the Metropolitan," February 26–September 4, 1977, no. 50 (of works on paper).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas," September 27, 1988–January 8, 1989, no. 369.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no. A258.

    London. National Gallery. "Degas, Beyond Impressionism," May 22–August 26, 1996, no. 92.

    Art Institute of Chicago. "Degas, Beyond Impressionism," September 28, 1996–January 5, 1997, no. 92.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde," September 13, 2006–January 7, 2007, no. 56.

  • References

    Julie Manet. Journal entry. July 1, 1899 [published in Julie Manet, "Journal (1893–1899): Sa jeunesse parmi les peintres impressionnistes et les hommes de lettres," Librairie C. Klincksieck, Paris, 1979, p. 238], mentions that Degas is working on three pastels of Russian dancers which he describes as "orgies de couleurs".

    Mary Cassatt. Letter to Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer. June 2, 1906 [excerpts published in Ref. Stein 1993, pp. 242–43], mentions that Vollard is holding two Degas drawings for the Havemeyers, probably this work and "Dancer with a Fan" (MMA 29.100.557).

    Degas: Quatre-vingt-dix-huit reproductions signées par Degas. Paris, 1914, pl. LXXXVII.

    Daniel Halévy. "A Edgar Degas." Le Divan 7 (July 1919), p. 218, dates the series of Russian dancer pastels about 1892.

    Henri Hertz. Degas. Paris, 1920, pl. XIII.

    François Fosca. "Degas, 24 phototypies." Les Albums d'art Druet. 6, Paris, [1927], pl. 5.

    H. O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art. n.p., 1931, pp. 185–86, ill.

    Georges Grappe. Degas. Paris, 1936, p. 42, ill., calls it "Ballet Russe".

    Marguerite Rebatet. Degas. Paris, 1944, pl. 103.

    P[aul]. A[ndré]. Lemoisne. Degas et son œuvre. [reprint 1984]. Paris, [1946–49], vol. 3, pp. 686, 688–89, no. 1184, ill., dates it 1895, stating that the series derives from a troupe of Russian dancers who performed in national costume at the Folies-Bergère that year; calls it a study for five pastels depicting groups of Russian dancers (L1181, L1182, L1183, L1187, L1188).

    Lillian Browse. Degas Dancers. New York, [1949], pp. 64, 412–13, pl. 242, dates it 1909; identifies the dance as Le Hopak from Fokine's "Le Festin," a suite of Russian dances performed that year in Paris by Diaghilev's ballet company; calls it a study for one of the figures in the pastel "Three Russian Dancers" (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; L1181).

    Douglas Cooper. Pastels by Edgar Degas. New York, [1952?], p. 25, under no. 28, asserts that the series was made after the Russian folk dance troupe at the Folies-Bergère in 1895; disagrees with Browse [Ref. 1949], noting that Degas's blindness would have prevented him from executing the series in 1909.

    Pierre Cabanne. Edgar Degas. Paris, [1957], pp. 45, 121, no. 144, pl. 144 [English ed., 1958, pp. 46, 123, no. 144, pl. 144], dates it 1895.

    Stephen Longstreet. The Drawings of Degas. Los Angeles, 1964, unpaginated, ill.

    Ronald Pickvance. Degas: Pastels and Drawings. Exh. cat., Nottingham University Art Gallery. Nottingham, 1969, unpaginated, under no. 30, dates the series of Russian dancers "considerably later than 1895" based on stylistic evidence, adding that 1909 is not improbable; mentions one theory that the series was inspired by the opera "Boris Godunov" [see Jean Sutherland Boggs, "Drawings by Degas," City Art Museum of Saint Louis, 1966, p. 226].

    Fiorella Minervino in L'opera completa di Degas. Milan, 1970, pp. 134–35, no. 1079, ill., dates it "about 1895?".

    Ian Dunlop. Degas. New York, 1979, pp. 222–23, considers the series to be based on the folk dance troupe at the Folies-Bergère in 1895.

    Michael Edward Shapiro. "Three Late Works by Edgar Degas." Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 8 (Spring 1982), pp. 10–11, fig. 2, discusses it as a study for "Russian Dancers" in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (L1183) and observes that the individuality of this dancer becomes more abstract in the subsequent pastels.

    Charles F. Stuckey in Degas: Form and Space. Exh. cat., Centre Culturel du Marais. Paris, 1984, pp. 56, 64 n. 212, dates the Russian Dancers series 1889 [typographical error for 1899] based on Julie Manet's [Ref. 1899] diary entry.

    Götz Adriani. Degas: Pastels, Oil Sketches, Drawings. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle Tübingen. New York, 1985, p. 395, under no. 224, states that the Russian Dancers series is comprised of 14 pastels and 5 drawings; dates the series probably 1900–1905, arguing that Lemoisne [Ref. 1946] dates it too early and that Browse [Ref 1949] dates it too late in light of Degas's failing eyesight; calls Matisse's "Dance" paintings a counterpart to Degas's series.

    Denys Sutton. Edgar Degas: Life and Work. New York, 1986, pp. 179, 182, discusses the difficulty in dating the Russian Dancers series.

    Frances Weitzenhoffer. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986, p. 167, mentions that Cassatt was confident that the Havemeyers "would like two drawings of dancers by Degas that she had asked Vollard to reserve for them" [probably this work and MMA 29.100.557; see Ref. Wold 1993].

    Jean Sutherland Boggs in Degas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 484, 581, 584–85, no. 369, ill. (color), dates it 1899, based on Ref. Manet 1899; considers it a study for the left foreground figure of the pastel in the collection of Mrs. Alexander Lewyt (L1187), which is probably one of the three described by Julie Manet.

    Horst Keller. Edgar Degas. Munich, 1988, pp. 102, 138, pl. 125, dates it 1895.

    Richard Thomson. "The Degas Exhibition in Ottawa and New York." Burlington Magazine 131 (April 1989), p. 295, agrees with Boggs's date of 1899.

    Jean Sutherland Boggs and Anne Maheux. Degas Pastels. New York, 1992, p. 158.

    Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1930, repr. 1961]. New York, 1993, pp. 257, 337 n. 376.

    Susan Alyson Stein in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 242, 286, pl. 239, identifies it as one of two drawings mentioned by Mary Cassatt in a letter of June 2, 1906 [see Ref. Cassatt 1906] as being held for the Havemeyers by Vollard.

    Gretchen Wold in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 337–38, no. A258, ill.

    Richard Kendall. Degas, Beyond Impressionism. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1996, pp. 48, 104, 187, 276, 278, 304, 307 n. 134, p. 310 n. 101, no. 92, ill. p. 283 (color), dates it about 1899; mentions it in connection with Degas's shift in dealers from Durand-Ruel to Vollard, noting that Vollard interested the Havemeyers in this work in May or June 1906; comments that the less finished examples from the Russian Dancers series, such as this picture, were signed, sold, and meant to be exhibited "as self-contained works of art"; discusses the series in the context of a contemporary curiosity for folk art, the exotic, and "all things Russian," noting that although the models for the series are unknown, foreign dance troupes regularly performed in cabarets near Degas's studio in Montmartre.

    Lillian Schacherl. Edgar Degas: Dancers and Nudes. Munich, 1997, pp. 67, 69, dates the Russian Dancers series about 1899 and suggests that they were inspired by operas with Russian folk dance sequences.

    Jill DeVonyar and Richard Kendall. Degas and the Dance. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 2002, pp. 248, 272, discuss the Russian Dancers series in the context of the popularity of historic and ethnic dancing in cabarets and vaudevilles before the turn of the century, proposing that Degas used some of these folk dancers as his models; describe the pastels and drawings "as studio studies that were gradually developed into a multi-hued sequence".

    David Bomford et al. in Art in the Making: Degas. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 2004, p. 130, assert that the Russian dancers in the series are probably Ukrainian or Slavic and call them "anti-ballerinas".

    Impressionist and Modern Art (Evening Sale). Christie's, New York. November 3, 2004, p. 19, fig. 3 (color).

    Asher Ethan Miller in Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2006, p. 347, no. 56, ill., records the sale of this work by Vollard to the Havemeyers as "May or June 1906," reflecting Vollard's notation of May 4 and Mary Cassatt's letter of June 2; notes that this work may have been the first of eight Russian dancer pictures owned by Vollard; agrees with Kendall [Ref. 1996] that it was made as an independent drawing intended for sale, rather than as a preparatory study for the pastel in the Lewyt collection, from which "the figure has been excerpted".

    Rebecca A. Rabinow and Jayne S. Warman in Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2006, p. 282, note that this picture and MMA 29.100.557 were bought by the Havemeyers for Fr 9,000 on May 4, 1906.

    Gary Tinterow in Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2006, fig. 171 (color).

    Alastair Macaulay. "Degas's Ballet Students Teach the Lessons of Their Art." New York Times (September 3, 2008), p. E1.

  • Notes

    This picture belongs to a series of pastels and drawings on the theme of Russian dancers, including another one at the MMA in the Lehman Collection (1975.1.166). Once thought to be a study for the left-hand figure in a pastel of three Russian dancers (Mrs. Alexander Lewyt; L1187), this picture was most likely conceived as an independent work [see Refs. Boggs 1988, Kendall 1996, and Miller 2006].

  • See also