By 1872 Degas had begun to specialize in genre scenes of women at work, especially music-hall performers and ballet dancers. In his paintings of these subjects he often included background figures pausing from tedious labors to stretch or yawn, as if to underline his goal of capturing unedited glimpses of daily life. It has been suggested that the Kimbell drawing might have originated as a study for a never-realized detail in one of these multifigured paintings.
Degas, who signed works only when he sold or exhibited them (and rarely did either), never signed this particular drawing. But the executors of his estate stamped imitation signatures in red ink on all the works left in his studio, and Dancer Stretching was among them. The status of its signature aside, the drawing features many of the hallmarks of Degas’s influential style. As if by oversight, he miscalculated the size of the figure to that of the sheet of paper, with the result that there is no room in the composition for her feet and the fingers of her left hand. Nor did he choose to erase the first lines with which he searched to capture the figure’s form, even after he had finalized his observations. The visibility of the preliminary drawings underneath the final one seems intended to suggest how Degas needed to rush in order to capture such a split-second subject. The smudges and leftover lines also serve as “background” to the final figure, who inhabits not a recognizable space, such as a ballet rehearsal room, but the sheet of drawing paper, evolving from the marks on it as the result of an artistic process. Degas’s decision to leave traces of this process visible—to represent not simply a dancer but the act of drawing her—gives this work an expressly modern character.
Sold for Fr. 12,200 (Degas sale II, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 11-15 December 1918, no. 175);
bought back at that sale by René de Gas (the artist’s younger brother), Paris, until his estate sale, 10 November 1927;
by inheritance to Roland Nepveu de Gas (son-in-law of René de Gas) from 1927 until at least 1943.
Hal B. Wallis, [1898-1986] Los Angeles, by 1958;
L. A. Nicholls, England, until 1959;
(sale, Sotheby’s London, 25 November 1959, lot 54);
purchased for £8,400 by (M. Knoedler and Co., New York);
purchased by John D. Rockefeller III [1906-1978], 27 October 1960;
John D. Rockefeller III collection until 1968;
purchased by (Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Inc., New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1968.