You know that you are getting on a bit when a museum that you visited when it was new shuts for three years to be updated. The Burrell Collection in Glasgow has got the builders in and its twenty strong collection works by Degas have come down to the National Gallery in London for an extended stay. Who was Burrell? He was a shipping magnate who used his fortune to collect all manner of things and then left his vast collection to the city of Glasgow.
The first Degas painting that Burrell ever bought starts the London show. A woman stares back at you through field glasses. You get a real sense of the watcher being watched.
Formal portraits of languid rich people were not Degas’ style. He preferred to depict fleeting glances of scenes that he saw all around him. I love this drawing of two men chatting in the Café Châteaudun with a blurring suggesting animated discussion.
Degas is famous for depicting racehorses, ballet dancers and women bathing, this drawing of a horse and jockey at the end of a race caught my attention. You can feel the exhaustion of the horse and I like the grid that you can see that would have helped Degas with his composition.
These two depictions of Russian dancers usually live at different ends of the country. The one on the left is the sketch that Degas made and on the left is a finished pastel picture on tracing paper. You can see that he has traced the outline of the original and flipped it over to better suit the image that he wanted to create.
If I could take just one picture home with me it would be this one. It shows a ballet dancer adjusting her strap, it is a perfect size to hang on the wall at home and I especially like the sense of movement. You feel that she is about to fling her left arm out at any moment.
The Degas from the Burrell are staying in London until May 2018, the exhibition is free so if you get a chance to pop in whilst they are on their holidays. I confess that I have 2020, when the refurbished Burrell opens it doors, noted down for a visit to Glasgow to see them again on home turf.
DRAWN IN COLOUR: DEGAS FROM THE BURRELL
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London
20 September 2017 – 7 May 2018
Open: Daily 10am – 6pm (Fridays until 9pm)
Whilst you are in the National Gallery take time to see the stunning permanent collection, also free, and take a special look in Room 1 at the National Gallery’s latest acquisition by Giovanni da Rimini.