A quartet of titles challenge readers to look beyond the basics when it comes to artwork. For Susan Goldman Rubin's picture book biography Degas and the Dance: The Painter and the Petits Rats, Perfecting Their Art, created in partnership with the School of American Ballet and the American Federation of Arts, readers go backstage at the Paris Opera to explore the genesis of Edgar Degas's most recognizable series. More than 30 works are reproduced, including The Dance Class (1874) and Dancers Practicing at the Barre (1877). Numerous preliminary sketches reveal the artist's creative process.
Gr 2-5-Degas created more than a thousand ballet pictures during his career. He spent hours behind the scenes at the Paris Opera and had dancers pose in his studio. Most of them were poor, working-class girls, hence the nickname "petits rats." He illustrated the hard work behind the finished product, showing ballerinas rehearsing, warming up, stretching, and even waiting before an exam. Just as the dancers practiced the same positions over and over again, so did Degas draw them repeatedly. Full-color reproductions of sketches and preparatory drawings are included as well as finished paintings in oil and pastel. Rubin's narrative focuses exclusively on the artist and the dance, with additional biographical material included at the end. Quotes from the painter and his friends enliven the text. The bibliography includes books about ballet as well as about Degas. This is a lovely book, one for dancers as much as for art appreciation.-Robin L. Gibson, Perry County District Library, New Lexington, OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A gloriously illustrated volume appropriately emphasizes process in its examination of Degas’s ballet paintings. "[Degas] learned that ballet training was very much like studying art. It took hard work and hours and hours of practice. Degas drew the same poses again and again, just as the dancers repeated their positions and steps again and again." From this opening, Rubin (The Yellow House, 2001, etc.) proceeds to describe Degas’s fascination with the discipline of the ballet and his determination to capture both the beauty and the work of the dance. The simple text draws on primary-source material, including Degas’s own writings and those of his contemporaries and subjects, itself painting a portrait of an extraordinarily dedicated artist whose perfectionism led him to reclaim a gift made to a friend in order to tweak it. After ruining it and providing a different painting in apology, the friend reportedly chained the replacement to his wall. Such humanizing anecdotes accompany a host of thoroughly and thoughtfully captioned reproductions of his work; studies frequently appear next to the finished paintings to demonstrate his process. Degas’s experiments with media are succinctly described and illustrated, as is the effect of his increasing blindness on his art. One small flaw is the narrative’s assignment of Degas to the Impressionist school; many art historians place him, with his supremely humane depictions of weary dancers, in the school of Realism. The narrative’s focus is exclusively on Degas’s work with the dance; a biographical note (in forbiddingly dense type) follows, sketching out in more detail his full career. An author’s note and bibliography (in equally forbidding tinytype) round out this altogether lovely offering. (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-10)