I am constantly reminded of how totally awesome Washington, DC is – and yesterday was another one of those, “Aww, DC is so great” kind of days.

On Sunday, my husband (Ryan) and I visited The Phillips Collection, specifically to see the new Degas Exhibit. BUT it has much more to offer than just Degas – The Phillips Collection opened in 1921, was America’s first modern art museum, and now houses mostly impressionist and modern art – a great mix of artists from Renoir and Rothko, Bonnard and O’Keeffe, van Gogh and Diebenkorn.

Sure, there is plenty to see at The Phillips, but our goal yesterday was to take in Degas.

Over his lifetime, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (also known simply as Edgar Degas) created over 1,500 paintings, drawings, pastels and sculptures of dancers. Degas depicts his ballerinas at rehearsals, back-stage and frequently stretching – he rarely showed them actually performing. And it’s this day-to-day-ness that shines at The Phillips Collection’s “Degas’s Dancers at the Barre” exhibit.

Degas' 1873 oil on canvas, The Dance Class. This was Ryan's favorite in the collection.

Gallery after gallery showcased dancers at the barre, pulling up stockings, adjusting slippers. The last room of the exhibition has two mirrored walls facing each other with a ballet barre set at hip height. Stretches are the first thing young ballet dancers learn. They’ll start each day doing the same stretches over and over until their dancing career ends. Degas approached painting in much the same way – Degas worked at his painting “Dancers at the Barre” for over two decades – working and re-working the position of the legs, the arms, the colors. Infrared cameras exposed that Degas had changed the position of the dancers’ legs eight times over his two decade process. The painting was still in his studio even at the time of his death.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Dancers at the Barre, early 1880s–c. 1900, Phillips Collection

This may be why he was so drawn to ballet and its dancers – he understood the repetition, starting each day at the barre with the same movements as the day before. Degas loved these ballerinas. He once said that they had “sewn up his heart in a bag of pink satin … a bit worn, like their dancing slippers.” This love and care is evident in each piece – the colors, the movements, the bodies are so vibrant you can’t help but feel the same way Degas did for these dancers.

I highly recommend checking out the special Degas exhibit at The Phillips Collection. But do it quick! It’s only around until 8 January 2012. Ryan paid $10 with a student ID, while I paid the regular $12. If you’re resistant to paying $$ to get into a museum (I get it, this is DC, almost every museum is FREE), then you should head over to the National Gallery of Art – it’s FREE and they have some INCREDIBLE Degas art. Including “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” – srsly, one of my fave sculptures – ever. (although, I’ll be honest, I was/still am a little creeped out by it).

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1878-1881, Degas, NGA

However you do it, check out Degas! If for no other reason but to inspire your daily stretching routine…

And yes, that's Ryan taking my photo. What a useful guy.

Oh, yea! Ballerina in training.

– Annie Erling Gofus

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