RICHMOND, VA.- French artist Edgar Degas first ballerina painting, the monumental Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the Ballet La Source, is now on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Ballerinas were a subject that was to preoccupy the artist for the remainder of his career. The oil on canvas, one of Degas first masterpieces, is from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum. It measures 51-1/2 by 57-1/8 inches.
The work was painted for the 1868 Salon de Paris. Degas combined for the first time in his work the narrative content, large scale, and complexity of history painting with the representation of modern life in this instance, the ballet.
Degas (1834-1917) depicts the famous ballerina in a rehearsal break for an elaborate production with exotic costumes and sets that also included onstage bodies of water and live horses. Though mostly forgotten today, it was so highly regarded in its time that it was chosen as one of the works performed at the gala opening of the magnificent Paris Opera House in 1875. The long and complicated Orientalist fantasy concerned the many adventures of a Georgian princess, played by Mlle. Fiocre.
This loan is most appropriate to VMFAs Paul Mellon Collection not only because of our marvelous assemblage of many of his best paintings and sculptures, but also because VMFAs unique wax Horse at a Trough Degas earliest known sculpture most likely served as a miniature model for the horse in the painting, says Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFAs Paul Mellon Curator and head of the department of European art.
In the VMFA gallery, the wax of Horse at a Trough is displayed in a case adjacent to the painting so that they are easy to compare, Merling says. Horse at a Trough stands 7-3/4 inches tall and was executed circa 1866-68.
In the same case, visitors will see a Degas bronze of Horse at a Trough cast in about 1919-21. It stands 5-1/2 inches tall.
This small exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see a remarkable painting in the context of VMFAs exceptional collection of waxes, sculptures and paintings by Degas. It allows an exploration of the artists fascination with both the human and animal form and an opportunity for a fuller understanding of the artists unique and innovative contributions to French art, Merling says.
In an adjacent gallery, another ballet-related standout from the VMFA collection of Degas works, the well-known Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1881), is displayed prominently. The bronze sculpture, which stands 38-1/2 inches tall, is dressed in a net tutu and a satin hair ribbon.
Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the Ballet La Source will remain on view at VMFA through Nov. 2.