Thursday, February 21, 2008

Musée d'Orsay

From an old train station to an art gallery!

Many of the exhibits now in the Museé d'Orsay orignially came from the Louvre, and the superb collection of Impressionist art that was housed in the cramped Jeu de Paume has been rehung here. The physical building is as amazing as the art collection.

Edgar Degas' famous Young Dancer of Fourteen (1881) was displayed in his lifetime, but the many bronzes on show were made from sculptures found in his studio after his death. I had not realized that there was real fabric in the ballerina's skirt. There is also a satin hair ribbon tied on her braid. It is breathtaking. Some inquiry shows that in 1997 curators asked the Ballet de l'Opera de Paris to restore the fragile tulle skirt on Degas's most famous work. The model who posed for the sculpture was Marie Van Goethem.
Van Goethem was the middle of three daughters of a widowed washerwoman who lived behind the then new Garnier opera house. Marie's mother pushed the young girl into the ballet's dance school in 1878, and by 1880 Marie was promoted to the corps de ballet. The next year Degas chose to depict Marie in wax, her hands clasped behind her arched back, her flat chest thrust forward in a defiant stance. (The Orsay has a bronze, cast in 1930.) Just two years later her mother offered her up as a prostitute and Marie was arrested for trying to pickpocket her gent. The opera promptly sacked her, and no one knows what happened to her after that. ...

Brigitte Lefevre was so moved she commissioned Patrice Bart to create a full-length ballet based on it. "La Petite Danseuse de Degas" is a three-act work. (Newsweek: A New Life For Degas's Young Dancer)

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