Craig Raine at The New Statesman:
Here are some chairs I noticed. An empty chair at the natural optical centre of Degas’s Dance Foyer of the Opera at rue le Peletier (1872), occupied by a fan and a puddle of white cloth. It is waiting – and the viewer is waiting, subliminally – for its occupant to return and claim the fan. It is reserved. Someone has bagged it. Not a circumstance you often see painted, though common enough in real life. Nor is the violinist playing. He is pausing, his bow at rest on his trouser leg. Degas has painted a pause. A thing that hasn’t been painted before. In the same picture, a dancer to the right, in the foreground, is sitting on another chair, her legs stiffly out front – ungainly yet graceful, resting. The upright back of the chair is invisible because it is under her unmanageably stiff tulle skirt, lifting the skirt up and slightly out of alignment. All her fatigue is there in the mistake, the carelessness of her plonking down. (The tulle in this picture, by the way, is a miracle: done not in the easier pastel, with its naturally smudgy, suggestive cloudiness, but in oil paint, using the texture of the fine linen canvas.)
Degas’s Ballet Class (circa 1880) has a little old lady in the foreground reading a folded newspaper. Her straw hat has a band of feathers, leaving the crown exposed, to parallel the bald spot of the dancing master. Her paper has a flap hanging down that mirrors the main dancer’s open scissor legs. So, cleverly composed, then, but I want to draw your attention to the way the old lady is sitting on her chair.