Edgar Degas Masterwork for New York Auction

NEW YORK, NY – Sotheby’s November 3, 2008 Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in New York will feature an outstanding group of six works by an artist who is among the most celebrated and loved artists in all art history, Edgar Degas. The collection captures the classic themes of the artist’s oeuvre in a variety of mediums. Chief among them is Danseuse au repos, a pastel and gouache from the acclaimed series of studies of young ballet dancers executed in the 1870s. Other works to be offered include a study of Degas’ renowned Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, as well examples of the artist’s celebrated bathers in both pastel and bronze. Prior to exhibition and sale in New York, many of the works will be shown in London and Moscow.

One of the highlights of the fall season is the preeminent work by Edgar Degas ever to be sold at auction – Danseuse au repos. Completed in 1879, this exquisite pastel and gouache captures the hidden world behind the scenes of the Palais Garnier’s spectacular ballet productions. Remarkable for the great quality of its richly worked surface and the detail of its vision and scope, the present work evidences Degas’ growing interest in portraying ballet dancers away from the spotlight and the stage. In his compositions of the late 1870s and 1880s he goes about capturing them in informal situations, be they warming up at the bar, resting before exercise or, as here, relaxing after the rigors of training. The present work was acquired by a friend of the artist’s in 1885 and remained in this family for more than 100 years before being sold by Sotheby’s London in 1999 for a price which remains the auction record for the artist to this day. It is estimated to sell for more than $40 million.

“This sublime pastel captures the essence of Degas’ work and is a quintessential Impressionist masterpiece,” said Emmanuel Di-Donna, Vice Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art Worldwide and Head of Sotheby’s Evening Sales, New York.

Mr. Di-Donna continued, “We are fortunate to have gathered a number of key examples of Degas’ output ranging from major sculptures to remarkable works in pastel and gouache of his most desirable subjects.”

Le Ballet, executed circa 1885, is a sumptuous pastel which captures the pageantry and inner workings of a production at the Paris ballet in all of its complexity. From a vantage point backstage where a group of dancers chat with each other and a gentleman patron, Degas portrays the troupe making their entrance onto the stage in a unified pirouette. The brightness of his pastels flood the background with color, illuminating the performers as they dance before a live audience. The proximity of Degas to these dancers allowed him to capture them in these informal moments, often revealing the immense artifice and effort that went into staging these elaborate productions at Charles Garnier’s palatial opera house. Acquired in the 1930s in Paris by the grandfather of the present owner, Le Ballet is estimated to sell for $7.5/10 million.

The evening sale will also include one of the artist’s most important sculptural works, Le Tub, an audaciously modern composition. Degas studied obsessively the expressive potential of the female nude throughout his career, but in his sculpture he was able to create the form directly with his hands and with limited tools. The artist’s approach to portraying the female body was unlike that of any of his contemporaries; his bathers were provocative and confrontational in a manner that contrasted strongly with the sanctified, academic depictions of the nude in the 1880s. Recognized for its innovative use of found objects and its uncompromising representation of a woman in one of her most intimate moments, Le Tub is estimated to realize $4/6 million.

Another sculpture to be offered, Étude nu pour la danseuse habillée was conceived in 1878-79 and depicts the model who posed for Degas’ celebrated sculpture, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans (est. $2.4/3.2 million). The model was Marie van Goethem, who reached her fourteenth birthday on February 17, 1878. She was the daughter of a Belgium laundress and tailor living in Paris, and together with her two sisters she studied ballet at the Opéra, where she subsequently made her debut as a ballerina in 1888. It was there that Degas discovered her, and asked that she pose for this important sculpture.

Femme se coiffant belongs to a group of pastels treating one of Degas’ signature themes, that of female figures at their toilette. While he usually portrayed a single female figure in these pastels, in the present work he depicted two women – one combing her hair, and the other leaning against a chair, reading a book. Both girls appear deeply absorbed in their activities and completely unaware of the spectator’s gaze, one turned with her back to us, the other with her eyes lowered towards the book she is holding. In his works on the subject of women at their toilette, the artist often depicted them in the process of brushing their hair, as in the present work, or washing and drying various parts of their body, which allowed him to explore unusual contortions of the nude. Femme s’essuyant les cheveux is another example of Degas’ pastels depicting a female nude or semi-nude washing or drying herself after a bath (est. $1.2/1.8 million). This impressive picture is a study for a larger composition now in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.