Catalogue entry

Edgar Degas 1834-1917

N05917 Grande Arabesque c.1885-90

Stamped 'Degas', '16/H' and founder's stamp 'CIRE | PERDUE | A.A. HÉBRARD' on base
Bronze, 16 3/8 x 21 1/4 x 11 (41.5 x 54 x 28)
Presented by the National Art-Collections Fund 1951
Prov: NACF (purchased from the founder A.A. Hébrard, Paris, through Leicester Galleries, London, 1923)
Exh: Works in Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Leicester Galleries, London, February-March 1923 (7) as 'Grande Arabesque, troisième temps (Deuxième état)'; lent by the NACF to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1923-6; Opening Exhibition of the Modern Foreign Gallery, Tate Gallery, June-October 1926 (works not numbered); on loan to the Tate Gallery from 1926 until presented
Lit: Walter Sickert, 'Degas' in Burlington Magazine, XXXI, 1917, p.185; Walter Sickert, 'The Sculptor of Movement' in exh. catalogue Works in Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Leicester Galleries, London, February-March 1923, p.6; Germain Bazin, 'Degas Sculpteur' in L'Amour de l'Art, XII, July 1931, pp.293, 301; Georges Jeanniot, 'Souvenirs sur Degas' in Revue Universelle, LV, 1933, p.300; John Rewald, Degas: Works in Sculpture (New York 1944), No.XL, p.24, repr. pl.95 (assigned to the period 1882-95); Lillian Browse, Degas Dancers (London 1949), p.388, repr. pl.155 as 'Danseuse Nue en Grande Arabesque', c.1882-6; John Rewald, Degas: Sculpture (London 1957), No.XL, p.149, repr. pl.33; Michèle Beaulieu, 'Les Sculptures de Degas: Essai de Chronologie' in Revue du Louvre, XIX, No.6, 1969, pp.374-5; Charles W. Millard, The Sculpture of Edgar Degas (Princeton 1976), pp.37n, 105-6, wax repr. pl.91 (dated between 1885 and 1890)

Degas made two further sculptures in the attitude of the present work (Rewald Nos.XXXIX, XLI), as well as five others showing the arabesque in different positions: one with both feet on the ground (No.XXXV) and four with the body inclined slightly above the horizontal (Nos.XXXVI-XXXVIII, XLII). It has been pointed out by Bazin and others that, arranged in sequence, these represent three successive phases of the same movement; nevertheless it is likely that Degas, who had an intimate knowledge of the ballet, meant to distinguish between the positions known respectively as 'Grande Arabesque' (cf. this work), 'Arabesque sur la Terre' and 'Arabesque'. The date of the present work is unknown, but from its smooth finish it would appear to be a fairly early piece. Sickert recalls that he saw the wax of the related 'Grande Arabesque, Second Time' (No.XXXVI) in Degas' studio in the Rue Victor Massé in the early 1890s. 'He turned the statuette round slowly to show me the successive silhouettes thrown on a white sheet by the light of a candle'.

According to Arthur Beale of the Fogg Museum's conservation laboratory, Degas seems to have modelled this sculpture entirely in plastilene and not in greenish-brown wax, as has sometimes been stated. (Millard, op.cit., p.37n.).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.151-2, reproduced p.151