The French artist, Edgar Degas (1834-1917), is particularly famous for his paintings and pastels in vibrant colours. Only a few people are, therefore, aware that for most of his career the master modelled small-scale sculptures in wax, clay and plaster, of which a number were cast in bronze after the artist’s death. The Glyptotek is one of only four museums in the world to own a complete collection of Degas’ bronzes, and these are displayed in this special exhibition.
From sculpture to painting
The motifs in Degas’ sculptures are the same as in his paintings: ballet dancers keeping their balance in almost impossible poses; the female body during daily toilette and racehorses restlessly pacing before the start of a race. Degas used his home-made models as the basis for painting, pastel and drawing. The original figures were modelled in wax and never left the studio. Degas guarded them closely as something private and did not choose to exhibit them. The fact that today we can enjoy looking at the varying poses and “twisted” bodies is thanks to Degas’ heirs, who had the wax figures cast in bronze after the artist’s death in 1917.
A preoccupation with movement
The studio contained more than 150 different figures, each of which is an expression of the master’s meticulous work in rendering movement, balance and proportions. 72 of them were cast in bronze, which together give us a fascinating insight into Degas’ work process and reveal the famous painter’s painstaking work in bringing the figure to life in three dimensions. The sculptures demonstrate Degas’ ability to capture a split-second of movement rendering it eternal. The artist himself said that he modelled horses in order to understand better the mechanism in their movements. For this reason Degas returns to his motifs time after time. Nevertheless every sculpture is unique and their expressions are far from identical.
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