Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864-1901
Ballet Dancers, 1885/86
Oil on plaster, transferred to canvas
60 3/8 x 60 in. (153.5 x 152.5 cm)
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An early, experimental work, Ballet Dancers is one of the first paintings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to include the daring compositional devices that would become a hallmark of his style a few years later. Here silhouetted dancers—their limbs simplified and exaggerated almost to the point of caricature—plunge forward along a dramatic diagonal, while the elegant, prominently cropped hands of the orchestra leader at the bottom right pay tribute to the intrusive heads, instruments, and fans frequently featured at the borders of works by the Impressionist Edgar Degas, as well as other modern artists under the influence of Japanese graphic arts. Not intended as an easel painting, Ballet Dancers is one of four related mural decorations that Toulouse-Lautrec created for an inn at Villiers-sur-Morin, where he visited his friends the Greniers beginning in the fall of 1885. Originally painted directly on the plaster walls, it was removed and transferred to canvas some time between 1913 and 1920, when Lautrec’s work was especially popular. Purchased in 1931 from Étienne Bignou, an important dealer of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in Paris, this was the last work that Frederic added to the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.
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