Recently, a letter arrived describing a young girl standing at the barre in her ballet class, while an artist guest of the instructor sketched and gathered painting material.
“I remember thinking how I would have loved to be painting and learning alongside him, rather than be self-consciously fumbling through ballet exercises at the barre,” the letter read. “Later, he held a show and sale of paintings and drawings inspired by his time there. My parents and an older sister bought pencil drawings featuring my little sister. When I asked if there had been any drawings of me, they told me he had painted a large one of me (I believe my back was turned to the viewer but I am not sure of that memory). At any rate, it was much more expensive than the pencil drawings and so I was left… I have often wondered about that painting and hoped I could one day see it, even if only in a photo. Your father wrote the first names of each of the girls he drew on the pencil drawings and maybe mine is identified likewise.”
She ended the letter by telling me her name.
I asked my mother about that period. “He delivered a whole show of ballerinas, even though the gallery had been expecting landscapes,” she said, a smile of recollection spreading into her cheekbones. It was the early 1970s and my parents had just moved to their seaside town. They met Margaret Perry, the owner of her eponymous ballet school, through the young father who had sold my parents their house. His children were aspiring ballerinas. I pictured my dad as he followed an urgency of inspiration, travelling the path of other painters who have explored the timeless subjects of childhood, movement and classical beauty. It was as if he had discovered, in his own new backyard, a life-class in real time. Newness and unique learning often accompany such a diversion of subject and inspiration.
French historian Daniel Halévy wrote that the Palais Garnier of Paris was to Edgar Degas what history was to Delacroix. In the burgeoning age of photography, Degas looked for technical subject matter that spoke to both modern realism and classical subjects and, in so doing, applied his draughtsmanship to the ballet’s fairies and nymphs. “They call me the painter of dancers,” Degas said, “They don’t understand that the dancer has been for me a pretext for painting pretty fabrics and for rendering movement.”
PS: “Muses work all day long and then at night get together and dance.” (Edgar Degas)
Esoterica: Ten years after the ballerina show, my dad was again invited to gather painting material at another local dance school, where I was a young student. A small dancer portrait sketch from that period was recently given by my mother to the parents of one of my classmates, now lifelong friends. This year, my niece Zoë will perform as part of a local production of The Nutcracker. If Dad were here, he would surely return for a moment to painting ballerinas.
The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.
“Never forget that the nurturing and preservation of your own muse is job one. Lose it and you may be losing a great deal.” (Robert Genn)
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I am a painter. I am delighted to be a painter.
What a lovely personal story. and what a great way to feature your father’s skills in portraiture and figures. It is not a given that all landscape painters have these skills. He was one of the few.
It is inspirarional for me as I often sketch restaurant patrons when I eat by myself. Practice is the key, as in all art. And the everpresent sketch booklet is iessential.
I love that story Sara – when I was at school, there was a young student there who spent all her spare time at the bars in the gym. She was devoted to becoming a ballerina and she inspired me by showing me that you can aspire to attain your dream – all you need is perseverance and dedication! A ballerina’s life is not an easy one but it is very rewarding.
Your letters are so inspirational, thanks Sara.
Ok, I can’t be the only one wondering…did you find the painting of the letter-writer?
Thank you for asking! I’m also wondering….
I wondered also if the girls painting was found or a photo sent to her.
Lovely words, Sara! Thank you.
A beautiful memorable story, a very personal sharing, thanks! Love Roberts paintings of the ballerinas too!
I really like the way he found his connection with the person in front of him. So easy to let the parts get away and become separate from the idea. As in landscape his control was complete. Thanks
Ahaaa, yes, ballerinas who have such grace and fluidity. Of course, along with their movements comes wonderful music. I especially like the classical music and classical dance movements of these two traditional genres together. Thank you, Sara, for sharing your dad’s paintings with the dancers. It does take me back to my days of studying ballet….what a memorable time in my young life.
Great story!! You are a fantastic person and the best daughter Sara!
Although I loved your Dad’s landscapes the ballerina paintings showed the tenderness of his soul. They are beautiful.