|OF BOXERS AND BALLERINAS:
FIGURES IN MOTION
Edgar Degas - Ballet School (ca. 1876)
George Bellows - Dempsey and Firpo (1924)
If you were able to travel back to 1874 France to watch the ballerinas at the Paris Opera, you might notice a quiet,
reserved man sitting out of the way backstage, observing the activity around him intently, and making quick notes
and sketches in his drawing book. He might even sketch you -- but he almost certainly would not ask you back to
his studio. This was his private domain, carefully guarded, where he could be alone with his art -- and where he
would turn those sketches into a beautiful portrayal of an imaginary moment in time backstage at the Opera.
Fast forward to New York City, 1910: you are now sitting in a noisy, smoke-filled arena with hundreds of other
people who are watching the action of a boxing match. The crowd roars each time a huge fist collides with a body.
The big man beside you is friendly and boisterous -- looking much like an athlete himself -- and he is thoroughly
engrossed in the spectacle. Surprisingly, he pulls out a sketchbook and makes a few lines, and then turns his
attention back to the action at hand. He will later turn his impressions into a painting that will record for all time the
drama and action of this physical contest.
Each of these painters was a keen observer of the world around him -- and each was gifted at translating that world
onto his canvas. Edgar Degas once described the principles behind his art as "the summing up of life in its
essential gestures" -- and in Ballet School he has captured the gestures and poses of ballerinas at work and rest,
focusing on a single moment in time: in another second, the scene will change and the dancers will move on.
Although George Bellows might have been the only artist to give up a promising career as a major league baseball
player for the sake of his art, it is evident from his powerful painting Dempsey and Firpo that he did not give up his
love for the drama of sport. Here, Bellows has chosen to "freeze" the moment of maximum tension and excitement
-- when champion Jack Dempsey is literally knocked out of the ring -- creating a scene charged with a dynamism
and energy that is almost palpable.
In this GalleryTime session we explore figures in motion, captured forever in the canvases of these two remarkable
Ballet School Dempsey and Firpo