Degas: Ukrainian dances from Little Russia

Anna Van DENSKY OPINION 08.05.2022 The National Gallery in London has changed the title of Edgar Degas’s drawing “Russian Dancers” (1899) to “Ukrainian Dancers” after a number of claims by Ukrainians on social media in a sympathetic but totally obscurantist gesture.

In times of the creation of the Degas masterpieces there was no Ukrainian identity, ethnicity or language. The very term “Ukraine” descended from “Ocraine” which means Rimland in Russian. The territories of the modern state of Ukraine were an integral part of the Russian Empire, and those who lived there called themselves “Maloross”, or Little Russians.
Logically, being strictly scientific and correct, the Degas’ ouvre should be named “Maloross Dancers”.
The same way we do not name Romans “Italians”, or Portuguese “Iberians”.

The pastel picture by the famed French Impressionist shows a troupe of young performers sporting hair ribbons in vivid blue and yellow, the national colours of modern Ukraine flag.

A spokesperson for the National Gallery told the Guardian, “The title of this painting has been an ongoing point of discussion for many years and is covered in scholarly literature; however there has been increased focus on it over the past month due to the current situation so therefore we felt it was an appropriate moment to update the painting’s title to better reflect the subject of the painting.”

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