Degas and the Dance

The Toledo Museum of Art examines the French painter's fascination with the art form.

Sunlit rehearsal rooms and shadowy stage wings are often the backdrop for the dancers depicted by Edgar Degas. “He was interested in the dancer … doing all one has to do leading up to the dance, including resting out of complete exhaustion,” says Toledo Museum of Art curator Larry Nichols. More than half of the French impressionist’s works represent ballet themes, which are the subject of the Toledo Museum of Art show “Degas and the Dance.” We spoke to Nichols about Degas’ style and inspiration, as well as multiple facets of this exhibition.

On Canvas:
While some works portray ballerinas at rest, Degas is renowned for skillfully capturing movement. The impressionist technique lent itself to rapid application of brush strokes that suggested motion, particularly when using oil paints. The artist also used pastels to achieve his desired look. “Pastels are so conducive to capturing light effects,” Nichols explains.

In Space: Degas created wax sculptures (many were cast in bronze posthumously) to understand the three-dimensionality of a body. Along with six works on canvas, the Toledo exhibition features six sculptures, including “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.” The 38-inch figure is about two-thirds the size of the Belgian dance student it depicts. “People can really examine how Degas’ compositions worked in three-dimensional space,” says Nichols.

In Person:
A dance studio installed within the gallery space will host Toledo Ballet rehearsals on a number of dates, and museum visitors are even encouraged to give ballet a try. “We’re consciously making a link — his images to you and me, standing on that dance floor trying a pirouette,” says Nichols.

“Degas and the Dance” runs through Jan. 10. For more information, visit