If you are familiar with the French artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917), you probably know that he had a special fondness for ballet dancers. He painted them, he sculpted them, and he spent hours observing and sketching them on stage and during rehearsals. The result is a collection of more than 1,500 works of art that beautifully capture many aspects of a ballet dancer's life.
A bronze cast of Little Dancer of Fourteen Years,
which Degas originally sculpted in wax in 1880.
These works of art have also inspired a variety of picture books. Most of the books are fictional stories, but many of them also contain biographical information about Degas, reproductions of his paintings, and other factual information about his work. Although not exhaustive, the list below highlights a few books that I have read and enjoyed, a few that friends have recommended to me, and a few that I have seen frequently in gift shops at art museums. If you have a favorite that is not included on the list, I would love to hear about it.
Little Ballerina, the first on the list, was just published in September 2011 by Prestel Publishing. I hope to read it and potentially blog about it in more detail soon. In the coming weeks I'll also be posting a more in-depth look at Chasing Degas, which is the second newest book on the list, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers in 2009.
Author: Helene Kerillis
Illustrator: Lucie Albon
About: A young dancer performs on stage with ballerinas from the masterpiece The Rehearsal of the Ballet on Stage
Author: Eva Montanari
Illustrator: Eva Montanari
About: A young ballerina chases Degas all over Paris as she tries to recover her lost tutu before a performance at the opera house
Authors: Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober
About: A board book that introduces toddlers to Degas through rhyme and art
Author: Joan Sweeney
Illustrator: Leslie Wu
About: A cat has kittens in a theatre where Degas is sketching ballerinas
Author: Laurence Anholt
Illustrator: Laurence Anholt
About: A poor ballerina named Marie becomes an inspiration to Degas and the model for Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, one of his most famous sculptures
Author: Amy Littlesugar
Illustrator: Ian Schoenherr
About: Another account of how the young ballerina Marie became the inspiration for Little Dancer of Fourteen Years
On a related note, I recently found out about two exhibitions that are focusing on the relationship between Degas and ballet. "Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement" is being held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London through December 11, 2011. And "Degas's Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint" is on display at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, through January 8, 2012.
You can read more about the London exhibit here, in a review in The Economist. And, if you live in the DC area and are interested in visiting The Phillips Collection with other dance or art lovers, then local dance studio Ballet Petite is organizing a group tour on Sunday, December 18, 2011 (if you register by November 18, 2011). You can find out more about the tour here. A picture book about Degas might be the perfect warm-up to the event!