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The Dancer: Degas, Forain, and Toulouse-Lautrec


The Portland Art Museum is organizing a landmark exhibition focusing on the work of three French nineteenth-century artists for whom the dancer was a subject of intense concentration: Edgar Degas, Jean-Louis Forain, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The exhibition will bring together some 125 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints divided equally among the three artists.

Dance was an important aspect of modernity in fin-de-siècle Paris, and the dancer, from the worlds of ballet as well as of vaudeville, was a key figure in the spectacle of urban life. Classical ballet, performed as interludes in operas, was a favorite aspect of the cultural life of the more elevated social classes, even though French ballet had suffered a decline in technical excellence beginning around 1860. The wealthiest spectators at the Paris Opéra were the subscribers (abonnés)—members of the upper crust, leaders in government, heads of industry and of banking, the most elite of whom were the members of the powerful Jockey Club. Ballet dancers, mostly female at this time, were typically drawn from the lower end of the social spectrum, although this changed toward the end of the century with the entry of more dancers from the middle classes. The profound differences in social levels between abonnés and performers, with these patrons often supporting ballet dancers in exchange for sexual favors, provided fascinating ingredients for visual art, art criticism, as well as literature. In Montmartre and on the grands boulevards, the fin-de-siècle also saw the increasing popularity of venues featuring the coarser dances of the cabaret and dance hall, the cancan and the rowdy chahut, which attracted a mix of social classes.

Curated by Annette Dixon

Exhibition Title

The Dancer: Degas, Forain, and Toulouse-Lautrec



Curated by

Annette Dixon

Organized by

Portland Art Museum

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