The Impressionists: Not Only Painters

In addition to his many well-known pastels and paintings, the French Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834–1917) also made numerous sculptures, but the large majority of these were never presented to the public. Shortly after his death, the figures of dancers, bathers and racehorses he had originally modelled in wax were secured, and in 1919 they were cast in bronze. The exhibition in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg ‘Intimacy and Pose’ presents the complete set of 73 original bronze casts. The central theme is Degas’ perspective on the female body. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Degas was not primarily interested in presenting staged poses in his sculptural work; he preferred to capture the posture and movements of women when they felt unobserved. His preoccupation with these private moments resulted in “intimate poses”: dancers rehearsing ballet positions, tying their shoes or examining their feet; women combing their hair or washing themselves. Above all, Degas depicts women waiting off-stage and at their toilette. By focussing on the work they have to invest in their bodies before appearing in public. This un-idealised view of the female body was a highly unusual perspective at that time and is also addressed in the impressive selection of drawings, pastels and paintings on show here alongside the bronze sculptures. The combination of sculpture and paintings is an interesting play between dancing, turning and bowing women and the paintings on the wall. In 1910 the observer Degas became blind and had to live another seven years without seeing the source of his inspiration. He had changed the European world of sculpture however.