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Degas, Dance ... Picasso

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Carol Vogel: Degas By Way of Picasso

Everything in the teens and twenties seems to be by way of something else, especially with Picasso who acted as a relay station (in a brilliant and flashing signal) for many other great artists. Anyway the idea that the Degas dancer went on to make an appearance in Demoiselles d’Avignon is intriguing.

Yet another show, opening at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., on June 13, explores Picasso’s relationship with Degas.

Every decade of his career Degas keeps cropping up,” said Richard Kendall, a Degas expert who teamed up with Elizabeth Cowling, a Picasso scholar, to put together “Picasso Looks At Degas.” “It’s not continuous, but he’s there.”

The show will be organized chronologically, with several themes, including Picasso’s Paris years, the female bather and the ballet, subjects that obsessed both artists. Picasso’s connection to his first wife, the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova — who perhaps led him to draw dancers or paint figures in balletic poses — will also be explored. On display will be a group of objects from Khokhlova’s archive, including never-before-published photographs as well as a letter Jean Cocteau wrote to Olga in the 1920s that mentions Degas in a complex, poetic way.

Visitors to the museum will also encounter new findings from the curators. Most surprising, Mr. Kendall said, is his theory that Degas’s famed sculpture “Little Dancer, Age 14” was not only known to Picasso but influenced him so much that two of the figures in his groundbreaking “Demoiselles d’Avignon” were partly based on it.

“A lot of people are really freaked by this,” Mr. Kendall said. “Because it so goes against the canon which says the ‘Demoiselles’ comes from African sculpture.”

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