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The Dancer:
Dégas, Forain, and Toulouse-Lautrec

Portland Art Museum
Portland OR – Feb 2-May 11, 2008

Edgar Dégas - Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen

Edgar Dégas, Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen (c. 1880-81, cast posthumously, c. 1919-32), bronze and fabric [Portland Art Museum, Portland OR – Feb 2-May 11] Photo: Paul Foster

The Portland Art Museum has organized an intriguing exhibition entitled The Dancer that features the art of Edgar Dégas (1834-1917), Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931) and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), three painters who worked in late-19th century Paris. Each artist depicts elements of the cultural milieu of this period in his work.

Images of dancers, in their many forms and social roles, were strong symbols of modernism in turn-of-the-century France. Dégas, who is known for his naturalistic renderings of ballet dancers from the Paris Opera, often observed the women backstage or during rehearsals. Dégas created many expressive tonal sketches of the graceful forms. The drawings served as the framework for his larger formal pieces like the The Ballet Class or for such sculptural works as The Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen which was cast in bronze after his death.

Forain, who was more of a caricaturist and newspaper illustrator, focused on social dilemmas of female dancers of the time, who were often put into compromising situations by the advances of wealthy male patrons or abonnés. Using a pictorial approach, Forain offers a critical narrative and social satire through gestures, facial expressions and glances.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Jane Avril

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril (Jardin de Paris) (1893), coloor lithograph on paper [Portland Art Museum, Portland OR – Feb 2-May 11] Photo: Paul Foster

Toulouse-Lautrec preferred the nighttime entertainment of dance halls and cabarets to the ballet. His large colour lithographed posters of star performers transformed the medium. Skewing boundaries between high art and advertisement, Toulouse-Lautrec became famous in Paris through a commissioned poster Moulin Rouge-La Goulue.

His simple graphic designs captured the racier aspects of Parisian society and the independent lifestyles of dancers and performers. His portrayals of their fashionable dress, sexual innuendos and expressive poses conveyed both their commodification as well as their unique position outside the world of the bourgeoisie.


Allyn Cantor

Edgar Dégas

Jean-Louis Forain

Edgar Dégas, Dancer Adjusting Her Dress (c. 1885), astel on paper [Portland Art Museum, Portland OR – Feb 2-May 11]

Jean-Louis Forain, Dancer and Abonné at the Opéra (c. 1925), watercolor on paper [Portland Art Museum, Portland OR – Feb 2-May 11]

 Fri, Feb 8, 2008