The National Gallery in London has renamed a painting by Edgar Degas from “Russian dancers” to “Ukrainian dancers” after calls for correction.
The early 20th-century painting features a dancing troupe, observed by Degas in Paris one evening. The pastel painting featured the dancers wearing vibrant yellow and blue ribbons, the colours of Ukraine. While this was a matter of discussion for years, the topic was re-started a few weeks ago when someone in the gallery’s education department highlighted the issue. Around the same time, a post by a London-based Ukrainian highlighting the same issue went viral. It must be noted that the work was not on display when this discussion began.
This was part of a larger criticism of UK institutions being “lazy” in labelling anything from the former USSR as “Russian”. In a scathing column in German magazine Der Spiegel last month, Olesya Khromeychuk (Director, Ukrainian Institute, London) wrote: [Art in London museums] from the USSR reveals deliberate or just lazy misinterpretation of the region as one endless Russia; much like the current president of the Russian Federation would like to see it. The curators have no problem presenting Jewish, Belarusian or Ukrainian art and artists as Russian.”
The National Gallery promptly made the correction, while sharing a statement: “The title of this painting has been an ongoing point of discussion for many years and is covered in the scholarly literature; however there has been an 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.” The decision was welcomed by many Ukrainians, including Mariia Kashchenko (Founder-Director, Art Unit).