First major exhibition, Discovering Degas, prepares to open at The Burrell

Image of a Degas work called Jockeys in the Rain, which features five horses preparing to race

A new exhibition of works by one of the world’s most revered artists, Edgar Degas, will open at The Burrell Collection on Friday 24 May 2024.

Discovering Degas: Collecting in the Time of Sir William Burrell is the first-time visitors can see all 23 Degas works from Burrell's original collection at the same time, alongside 28 further world-class paintings, works on paper and sculptures on loan from 13 of the UK and Europe’s finest national and international collections.

Set to be one of the must-see Scottish shows of the summer, Discovering Degas is the first, major exhibition to be held at the museum since it reopened in 2022, after a £68 million refurbishment.

Staged by Glasgow Life, the charity that leads on culture and sport in the city, the exhibition will explore the collecting and buying of Degas artworks by Sir William Burrell and his wife Constance, Lady Burrell, who donated one of the single greatest gifts to the city of Glasgow.

As shown through fascinating letters and other archival material, Burrell is amongst the earliest Scottish collectors to buy works by Degas. Over a 40-year collecting period he bought over 20 artworks spanning the artist’s career, far more than any other UK collector.

By bringing these together with loans from The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, British Museum, The Courtauld, National Museums Liverpool Walker Art Gallery, Museums Northumberland, The National Gallery London, Tate, V&A, Amgueddfa Cymru Museum Wales, Hugh Lane Gallery Dublin, The Hunterian, National Galleries of Scotland and Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Discovering Degas provides an important opportunity to better understand Degas and a unique introduction and fresh perspective on a hugely popular art movement.

Loans are supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund. Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections. 

Discovering Degas has been an absolute joy to work on. Degas is one of the finest artists the world has ever seen and one of the founding artists of the Impressionist group.
Pippa Stephenson-Sit Curator of European Art at Glasgow Life Museums

Pippa continued: “He was very fond of Britain and travelled here several times. He cultivated relationships and recognised opportunities for selling his work to British art collectors, who were beginning to develop a taste for modern French art. Sir William had a keen eye for his artworks and collected them for about forty years.

“From modern Parisian life, to horse-racing, to ballet scenes, Degas tirelessly tackled a number of fascinating topics in a way that was entirely his own. His artworks remain extremely popular today, particularly his ballet scenes, but we hope this exhibition offers a chance to learn something new about an intriguing, immensely talented artist. This is a unique opportunity to view stunning art, to share the strength of Burrell’s legacy, and provide new ways for visitors to engage with our incredible collection.

“We are indebted to the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund and the many national and international collections who have loaned significant works, enabling The Burrell to host what promises to be a must-see show this summer.”

Frances Fowle, Professor of Nineteenth-Century Art, University of Edinburgh, and Senior Trustee of the Burrell Collection is collaborating with Glasgow Life Museums to curate the exhibition.

Degas’ work appealed to collectors like Sir William Burrell due to his skilful drawing, and his interest in portraying figures in movement. He was very modern in his approach, working in a variety of media, adopting unexpected viewpoints and experimenting with bold colours and unusual light effects.
Professor Frances Fowle Senior Trustee, Sir William Burrell Trust

Frances continued: “This exhibition demonstrates the whole range of the artist’s output and creates a context for Burrell’s outstanding collection. Among those who developed a taste for Degas were other Glasgow shipbuilders like William McInnes, and several women, among them the yachting enthusiast Elizabeth Workman and the musician Rosalind Maitland.”

Visitors will be able to view every Degas work acquired by Burrell, together with two additional Degas works from the wider Glasgow Museums Collections. This includes the first Degas painting bought by Burrell which is still in the collection, Woman Looking Through Field Glasses, c.1869.

Also on show is Vincent van Gogh’s portrait of Glasgow art dealer, Alexander Reid, which provides some historical context to the collecting of Degas works by other British collectors at this time. Discovering Degas also explores the British reaction to Impressionism during the 1880s though the display of the renowned and controversial Degas work L’Absinthe, on loan from Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The exhibition goes on to explore Degas’ fascination with the ballet, with colourful works on paper and intricate bronze sculptures, including the striking works The Red Ballet Skirts (c.1900),  Grande Arabesque, First Time (c.1885-90), and loans from National Galleries Scotland including the  vivid, late painting, Before the Performance (c. 1896-1898), as well as studies for The Fourteen Year Old Dancer (c.1878), the only sculpture exhibited by the artist in his lifetime

Like horseracing, the ballet gave Degas an opportunity to experiment with movement, colour, and form. Degas was a regular visitor to the ballet and enjoyed backstage access for a time. From the early 1870s, he started depicting scenes of the dancers. Visitors can see for themselves Burrell’s fascination with the dancers; the strain dancing placed on their bodies, moments of relaxation behind the scenes, glimpses of convivial comradery, captured in vivid pastels and oil paint.

Three young dancers from Jazzart College of Performing Arts in Motherwell recreated some of the poses portrayed in Degas’ work.

One of the final sections considers Degas’ approach to depicting women bathing and dressing, shown at their most private, including pastel and charcoal works on paper such as Woman in a Tub (c.1896-1901) and After the Bath (c.1887-1890).

Among the show’s main attractions are studies of racehorses and jockeys, including Jockeys in the Rain (1883-1886) and exceptional loans from The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham of Jockeys Before the Race (1879) and a bronze sculpture of a Horse Trotting, modelled by Degas in the early 1870s, and cast by the Hebrard Foundry Paris, 1919-21.

Discovering Degas offers a wonderful opportunity for visitors to enjoy over seventy works by this hugely popular artist. The Weston Loan Programme helps museums and galleries create ambitious exhibitions through the bringing together of important loans, we are thrilled to support this exciting show.
Sophia Weston Deputy Chair of the Garfield Weston Foundation

Since reopening The Burrell Collection has won a multitude of awards, recognised globally for its philosophy on community engagement, approach to digital interpretation, and its work on accessibility, inclusiveness, and sustainability. This exhibition has built on the learnings in each of these areas, which have resulted in 100% of people recently surveyed rating their visit as either excellent or very good.

This is the second exhibition to be held at The Burrell Collection since it reopened in 2022, following a major refurbishment and redesign. It is currently Art Fund Museum of the Year.

Discovering Degas: Collecting in the Time of William Burrell opens on Friday 24 May 2024 and runs until Monday 30 September 2024. Tickets are available at, priced £13.50/ £11/ £7/ £5 / under 12 free.