Edgar Degas - Two harlequins 1886

Two harlequins 1886
Two harlequins
1886 32x24cm pastel/paper
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

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From National Gallery of Ireland:
The Painting: Two harlequin figures are in conversation, reflecting the companionship of dancers who spend hours in each other’s company. The wooden chair, green shutter and yellow poster illustrate a rehearsal space. The androgynous-shaped figures are female travesty dancers (dressed as males), wearing colourful chequered leotards and the black masks and dark caps of Commedia dell’Arte characters. It is one of many works inspired by a contemporary production of Les Jumeaux de Bergame, an original play by Jean-pierre Claris de Florian (1782), adapted as a ballet-arlequinade by Charles nuitter and Louis m érante and premiered at the paris opéra on 26 January 1886. The story tells of two harlequin brothers (senior and junior) who fall in love with the same woman, with harlequin senior holding the baton she would later use to attack junior. The artist attended ballet rehearsals in July 1885, and although the pastel predates the performance, the harlequins’ masked figures appear in seven known pastels by Degas. He was fascinated with their intimate lives, observing the motion inherent in their agility and acrobatic skills, paying particular attention to the costumed figures backstage in a favoured motif of dancers resting. This work illustrates the importance of line and drawing in all of Degas’s compositions.