is perhaps known for "exhausting" the topic of the ballet,
and in particular young ballerinas, rather than male dancers.
has several works done in pastel that depicted ballerinas on stage. What is unusual about Degas' work is that
he went backstage and to ballet lessons to understand more about
the dancers' movement as well as the hard work that these young
girls and women invested to be on stage.
Seldom had ballerinas been depicted off-stage before.
The Dance Class 1874
the next two pictures to our left, Degas depicts dance lessons.
fascinated by the movement of ballet dancers, closely observes as
they diligently practice. In
the painting on the top is Mr. Perot, a well-known teacher lecturing
the rats (as they were sometimes called).
works with light and perspective in these two paintings, augmenting
the space in which the ballerinas practice by giving us a slight "fish-eye"
view of the whole scene. The light plays off the tutus of the
ballerinas, directing our
sight around the composition. Although both paintings are full of
ballerinas practicing, Degas is skillful in allowing for a spacious,
rather than cramped,composition.
de Goncourt, a writer, Degas' friend and admirer of the painter's
work, talked about the way in which Degas would mime the dancers
when he showed his pictures, by "imitating with the expression
of the dancers one of their arabesques...it is really very funny
to see him, upon points, his arms rounded, mixing the aesthetic
of the dancing master with the aesthetic of the painter"
(Sutton, Denys; Degas, p 169).
Dance Rehearsal in the Foyer of the Opera
next two paintings focus on the persistent practice of ballerinas.
tenacious work of these hard-toiling, persevering ballerinas,
does not stop at class. The painting to our left shows ballerinas
practicing in the foyer.
The rounded arms of their poses echo the round
windows in the background.
Beraud, a painter contemporaneous with Degas, who chose to show
ballerinas flirting with their rich patrons in the foyer, Degas
chooses to depict the ballerinas' focus and dedication to their
this next painting we see a dancer bending over, perhaps in pain
or maybe in a gesture of flexibility. Clearly she is not on stage, rather,
based on the title, she is waiting.
Perhaps the bent-over figure connotes a sense of anxiety
of whether she will be chosen or not.
Next to her is a figure dressed in black.
We're not sure if these two women are related. If they are, the woman in black could
be her mother, similar to a "soccer mom" who takes her
kids to practice and accompanies them through the trials and tribulations
of their discipline.
a backstage scene would unlikely be chosen by the Academy.