Degas – The Star

While most of the impressionists were melting away all definite outlines in their luminous mists, Degas was carrying on the Goya-Daumier tradition of terse linear illustration. He loved to draw race-horses and ballet-dancers, and in a few irregular, sketchy strokes to express the light, tense agility of both. His early works are comparatively realistic, and in oil; they emphasize delicacy and grace. The later ones are mostly in pastel, and represent his models in bizarre, strained postures, full of unusual, striking repetitions of angle and curve. There is brutal naturalism in their lack of physical beauty; but the coloring in these late pastels—rich blends of intense hues in a dry, chalky fresco-like surface — is decorative in the extreme. Of the early group, an out-standing example is No. 160, The Opera Dancing School; of the later, Woman Drying her Neck (226).

The Star represents a transitional period between the two. It has the grace and fluffy delicacy of texture of the early works, with more breadth and simplification. Its composition is deliberately one-sided, unbalanced, but linked together by repeated angles (e.g., the ballet-skirt and the large umbrellas). The color shows greater intensity, with concentrated blotches of bright color in the flowers. Realistic theatre-lighting still floods the star’s face and arms; but elsewhere it is giving way to a more decorative interest in pure color-contrasts.