Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Degas at the National Gallery - 'Drawn in Colour from the Burrell'

Yesterday afternoon I went to a preview of a new exhibition at the National Gallery - 'Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell'. The 'Burrell' refers to the Burrell Collection in Glasgow that is currently closed for refurbishment. The National Gallery seems to have a policy of showing exhibitions in unusual locations at the moment and this exhibition is in the ground floor galleries near the Getty entrance, usually galleries B, C and D (I think). I like this approach that forces us to go to parts of the Gallery we might not normally visit.

The exhibition is made up of various works featuring dancers, horses, intimate moments with women after a bath and combing their hair and some of everyday life such as a pastel of laundry women and others looking at gem stones. My favourites were the dancers. Apparently, Degas attended 54 ballet performances in 1885, many at the Paris Opera. I've got a long way to go to catch up with that kind of record. I particularly liked 'The Rehearsal' with ballet dancers hidden by the spiral staircase and another cut in half by the edge of the paper. These are very specific compositional decisions to achieve the 'modern' effects he wanted.

Another work I really liked about dancers was 'The Red Ballet Skirts' featuring three dancers in their deep red costumes, limbering up and getting ready for a dress rehearsal or a performance. This is a later work and these are not lithe young women - look at the sturdiness of those legs with muscle and power. This is quite a startling work and really stands out in the room of dancers. It's the poster for the exhibition and rightly so.

In contrast see the more delicate and less monumental 'Dancers on a Bench' with the dancers almost like delicate birds fluttering and flapping on a tree branch. You can almost see the quick movements and hear the chatter as the dancers relax during a rehearsal and get ready for the next section of the dance. You just know that the girl sitting down with the fan is the ring-leader of the group, chattering away ten to the dozen.

In the next room are a few works showing women in intimate situations and positions and the most famous is one of the National Gallery's own works, 'After the Bath, Woman drying Herself'. It's always a fascinating work to see, pastel on several sheets of paper. That pose looks uncomfortable so is probably meant to show movement as the woman rocks forward for a moment. All we really see is a naked back with reds and blues of slight shadows as well as flesh tones. It does make me wonder how many towels the woman actually needs after a bath. It's a good job there are some laundresses pictured in the first room of the exhibition to take care of the towels.

It's a relatively small exhibition spread over three of the ground floor gallery rooms so doesn't take a long time to see it but it's good to see these works that rarely leave the Burrell Collection in Glasgow,

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