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The Star: Dancer on Pointe, c. 1878-1880

Edgar Degas

French, 1834-1917
Gouache and pastel on paper, mounted on board
22-1/4 x 29-3/4 in. (56.5 x 75.6 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1969.40.P
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

Like this dancer, Degas’s pictures of the ballet hover precariously between the magic of the footlights and the realities of life backstage. We watch this performance in close-up, either through a pair of opera glasses or from the wings, to which Degas, an elite subscriber at the Paris Opéra, enjoyed access. The dancer’s pose—a piqué en attitude—cannot be sustained for more than a second or two at a time; this fact may explain the confused relationship between her legs and torso, which Degas joined with an awkward puff of tulle beneath her tutu. His model for this figure was Melina Darde, a teenaged member of the corps de ballet, transformed, by the artist’s imagination, into a glimmering, gas-lit star.

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