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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Ukrainian Dancers

Key facts
Full title Ukrainian Dancers
Artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
Artist dates 1834 - 1917
Date made about 1899
Medium and support Pastel and charcoal on tracing paper laid onto millboard
Dimensions 73 × 59.1 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Sara Lee Corporation, Chicago, through the American Friends of the National Gallery, London, 1998
Inventory number NG6581
Location On loan: Discovering Degas: Collecting in the time of William Burrell, The Burrell Collection (Glasgow City Council), Glasgow, UK
Collection Main Collection
Ukrainian Dancers
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

In the late 1890s a number of dance troupes from Eastern Europe visited Paris and performed at the Moulin Rouge, the Folies-Bergère, the Casino de Paris and at a brasserie near Degas’s Montmartre home. This pastel may have been one of three showing ‘dancers in Russian costume’ that Degas showed a visitor to his studio in 1899, although these dancers are almost certainly Ukrainian rather than Russian. Wearing traditional folk dress and stomping on the ground, they are very different from the classical ballerinas he had drawn and painted for almost four decades.

The drawing is on tracing paper, which allowed Degas to reverse individual figures and combine dancers in different arrangements from sheet to sheet. He added a strip of paper to the bottom of this sheet so he could include the lower leg of the dancer closest to us. The simple, bold outlines convey dynamic movement and the thickly applied pastel creates rich surfaces made up of many colours.

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