I have frequent ecstatic, joyful, sublime, occasionally transcendental experiences in front of art when I’m in museums (as my dedication to blogging thousands of works of art from dozens of museums should attest), occasionally a work will induce all at once. It’s a particular, familiar thing for me. You may recognise this state in me when I wander around a museum grinning like a loon and mumbling to myself like Glenn Gould playing Bach.
I have never cried in front of any work of art.
Yesterday, I almost cried before Edgar Degas’s Tänzerinnen im Probensaal.
I looked away before it tipped me over. If the room had not been packed with art gawkers I think I would not have been so embarrassed at being unexpectedly caught by a piece. I can’t even say why. I’ve seen Degas plastered in dance studios the world over—it’s a cliché of itself. This one is less known, oil on canvas, the palette limited to pastels of sinopia and rust browns, teal, some umber line-work and shadows, sparing use of white to tint these on the tutus, shoes and in the blocks of light in the background. It’s muted and smudged, unfocussed, only a pair of details picked out with the line-work, often blurring into the background, or that overrunning the group of female ballet dancers.
It was also one of the works not meant to be photographed, which I didn’t realise until after, me being busy with not crying and getting some closeups and all. I’ve tried to keep the images as near to what the camera saw and I remember as possible—they are far more subdued and lacking in contrast, saturation, definition than any versions I’ve seen online, even the one on the Impressionism – Expressionism exhibition website itself (which is however closer in colour palette than any of the others).
An approximation of what I saw: