Viewpoint of an Abonné
According to ClarkArt.edu, “Unlike many of Degas’s ballet scenes, which combine details from sketches made at different times, this pastel relates to a specific production of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’. The viewpoint is that of an abonné, a subscriber with privileged access, like the top-hatted gentleman on the far side of the stage.”
As two weary dancers leave the stage, masked ballerinas take their place. The bold composition and vibrant colors evoke the immediacy of a live performance, though the pastel was almost certainly made in Degas’s studio.
Degas made deliberate choices to allow the viewer to become a privileged onlooker in this ballet. His understanding of media, color, texture, and perspective allow him to manipulate the viewer’s gaze by overwhelming the senses.
For example, “Certain areas in faces and clothing were finely nuanced, but a form such as the lower right arm of the ballerina in pink was defined entirely through adjacent blocks of pastel, not by means of line. Allowing the granular texture and warm gray tint of the paper to remain widely visible and contribute to the color scheme, Degas nevertheless signaled his satisfaction with the picture by signing it… (Lees, 2012, p. 265).
The chalkiness of scenery and the texture of muslin are conjured up in coarse flourishes of pastel, and the blur of such elements as the foreground tutus is juxtaposed with more sharply focused passages elsewhere. We share the artist’s perspective, our attention thrust forward by a series of diagonals as if we too are part of the offstage traffic, while contrasts of scale and value add to an exceptional assault on our senses. As much as any major work of Degas’s mid-career, ‘Entrance of the Masked Dancers‘ fuses raw color and inspired draftsmanship to evoke the vibrancy of modern sensation.
Tellingly, in all his pictures of ‘Don Giovanni’, Degas stayed close to his practice of by-passing celebrity on the stage; in ‘Entrance of the Masked Dancers’, the emphasis is almost entirely on the corps-de-ballet at its most anonymous. Neither the dancer in pink nor her near-twin in green is recognizable among the young stars of the day, even if their faces seem familiar in the artist’s current roster of models
Now considered too fragile to travel because of its unfixed surface, Entrance of the Masked Dancers has been little exhibited outside the Clark, though it continues to be anthologized with Degas’s major achievements and singled out as “one of the most dynamic of all his stage creations.” 27
Click for enlarged image:
- The Entrance of the Masked Dancers (circa 1879-1882)
- Edgar Degas -(1834–1917)
- Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute – Williamstown, MA (United States)
- Drawing – pastel
- Image credit: The Athenaeum
Lees, Sarah, ed. Nineteenth-Century European Paintings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; New Haven and London: distributed by Yale University Press, 2012. https://media.clarkart.edu/1955.559_EuroCat.pdf, (accessed 5 Dec 2018). p. 263-268.
The Clark Museum, Edgar Degas, The Entrance of the Masked Dancers, https://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/7696 (accessed 5 Dec 2018).