Of all the Impressionists who focused on modern life, Edgar Degas was the most dedicated to the classical tradition of depicting the human form, especially that form in movement and performance. In this focused exhibition, two exceptional loans—a remarkable painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey, and a beloved sculpture from a private Chicago collection, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen—join other loans and paintings, drawings, pastels, and sculpture from the Art Institute’s permanent collection to explore the artist’s career-long fascination with the figure in motion through the subjects of the racetrack and ballet.
A striking canvas, Degas’s Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey marked a momentous transition for the artist from the classically inspired history paintings of his youth toward the depiction of subjects drawn from modern life. In the mid-1860s, when Degas premiered this work, the cross-country obstacle race known as the steeplechase had reached the height of its popularity, but the sport’s potential for danger also made it controversial. This highly dramatic image, possibly inspired by a recent tragedy, underscores the perils inherent to the race. Painted on a public scale, it nevertheless captures an intimate and unsettling moment. Is the jockey, for which Degas’s younger brother Achille served as the model, dead or merely fallen? The sense of immediacy evoked by the painting contrasts sharply with the artist’s own working method for the piece, which was complex and painstaking; Degas returned to the work over the course of nearly 30 years radically reworking both subject and brushwork. He reportedly deemed the painting “one of those works which are sold after a man’s death. . . . Artists buy them not caring whether they are finished or not.”
Degas’s fascination with Parisian cultural life extended also to the café concert, theatrical performances, and above all, the ballet. Like the steeplechase, the ballet existed to entertain the wealthy, and the artist paid for the privilege of going behind the scenes of the ballerina’s world. This intimate vantage point allowed him to capture what fascinated him most: the movement of the performer—caught in the poetry of the onstage illusion or backstage practice. That poetry is highlighted in this presentation by Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, a bronze cast from the original wax sculpture displayed at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881. With her feet turned out, shoulders pressed down and back, and chin lifted high, her body brims with energy. That grace and athleticism, physical peril and transport—whether through the form of a young dancer, a robust singer, or a daring rider—come alive in the works selected for this intimate exhibition.
Sponsor Degas: At the Track, On the Stage is made possible by Louise S. Hart.
17 min 57 sec ago The Art Institute of Chicago COMING SOON—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–75
The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. A major international traveling show—which has Chicago as its only North American venue—this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute and draws heavily on the the museum’s collection—more than 60% of the over 200 items on display belong to the Art Institute.
OPENING JANUARY 28—http://bit.ly/2jMlnUx
3 hours 29 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—The Italian–born American artist Josef Stella revisited his native Italy in 1922, where he became fascinated by Renaissance painting. Drawing inspiration from Sandro Botticelli, Stella began to produce decorative, detailed, symbolic compositions, such as A Vision (seen here). Stella was enthralled by the tropical plants he observed at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York, and he imagined an iconic woman growing out of the earth like the towering flowers on either side of her.
The French–born American artist Gaston Lachaise found his own iconic inspiration for the sculpture, Woman (Elevation), in Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he later married, telling her, “I want to create a miracle with it… as great as you.” This sculpture represents Lachaise’s first full-scale expression of the idealized female form that would come to dominate his art. Modernists like Lachaise believed preclassical art possessed a primitive vitality absent from later art forms.
See Josef Stella’s A Vision (1925/26) and Gaston Lachaise’s Woman (Elevation) (1912–15; cast 1927)—on view in Gallery 271.
23 hours 50 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Rodney McMillian: a great society
Our latest exhibition in the Modern Wing represents the last decade of the artist’s work in video. Grappling with the complexities of class, race, and place in America, Rodney McMillian employs elements of performance, public speaking, oral history—and his interest in the science fiction genre—to expose the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality, endemic racism, and the failed promise of freedom and prosperity for all of its citizens. While McMillian's work engages the often stark realities of history and contemporary culture, it is motivated by the potential for alternative realities and future transformation.
See Rodney McMillian: a great society on view in the Modern Wing through March 26.