Ballerinas were portrayed on stage or solo, but the perspective used by Impressionists and Post-Impressionists shifted dramatically from that of the Academy.

Edgar Degas 
Musicians in the Orchestra 1872

Degas did not always portray ballerinas backstage.  He has several pastels with ballerinas being the stars of the show. 

In this first picture we see an unusual perspective of the stage.  Dominating the foreground are the musicians, in the dark.  In the foreground, but clearly visible because of the spotlight on her tutu, is a very young ballerina, bowing to the viewer. Degas uses a skewed perspective to allow our eyes to travel the distance from the tight-knit composition of musicians in the foreground to the performing ballerinas on stage. Thus, the composition is both tight and spacious.

Toulouse Lautrec 
Ballet Dancers 1885

Lautrec, in this following work, may have borrowed from Degas' painting.  However, only the baton of the orchestra director can be seen briefly--at the bottom right of the picture. Our eyes focus on the fast pace of the ballerinas performing on stage. Lautrec has skillfully captured the dynamism of the dancers--perhaps he was able to do so because he had practiced painting wild dancers in the more popular dance halls such as Moulin de la Galette.


Degas' work breaks with tradition with his unusual perspective.  Lautrec breaks with tradition by capturing motion in all its blur.  Both treatments may have been influenced by photography.

Edgar Degas 
Small Dancer c1900

Although our focus on "breaking away from the Academy" has been in painting, Degas also experimented with wax sculpture. 

These nudes, captured at an instance in time, show Degas' preoccupation with capturing one frame of motion in time--which he expressed in his pastels, in his photos, in his sculptures. Degas not only studied human motion, such as in the movement of dancers, he also studied the movement of animals--that of horses. 

It is interesting that the woman on the bottom left is not a lean dancer, but one who is comfortable moving her weight around. Such an "ungainly" figure would have been frowned upon at the Academy.

The Salon usually looked down on wax sculpture, for it was probably not considered a classical material such as marble or bronze.

Edgar Degas 
Large Dancer c1900

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