Printer Friendly Version

Edgar Degas

At the Ballet
Edgar Degas<br>French, 1834-1917<br><I>Ballet Dancer in Repose</I>, about 1880-82<br>Charcoal on light tan wove paper<br>Gift of Julius Boehler
zoom Edgar Degas
French, 1834-1917
Ballet Dancer in Repose, about 1880-82
Charcoal on light tan wove paper
Gift of Julius Boehler


Degas is probably best known for his pictures of ballet dancers. He depicted dancers at nearly every moment of their dancing life—resting, rehearsing, making backstage preparations, performing, and taking curtain calls. All of his paintings reflect his close observation of the dancers’ movements, from specific dance positions to the slightest stretch.

Degas liked to catch his subjects in a private moment. Here a young dancer is slumped over, unaware that she is being sketched. But Degas was watching every little motion she made. Notice the faint outlines showing how she moved her left arm several times—stretching it up, extending it down toward her neck, and then bringing it up to her face. Dashes of line around her back and legs also suggest movement.

Degas sketched constantly. Often he used his drawings as the basis for his colorful pastels. He would make studies of various dancers, alone or in pairs, and then combine them all into one picture when he returned to his studio. That way the final version contained many different movements and beautiful costumes.

spacer related images 1.  + 2.  + 3.  + bracket spacer
1. Ballet dancers weren’t the only women Degas chose for his subjects. He also depicted women making hats, doing laundry, or taking a bath.
Edgar Degas, The Laundresses, about 1880-82, etching, aquatint, gift of Mrs. E. Bates McKee
2. Degas was a master draftsman who often sketched his subjects before including them in a painting.
Edgar Degas, Four Studies of a Baby’s Head, 1867, charcoal on off-white wove paper, John DeLaittre Memorial Collection, gift of funds from Mrs. Horace Ropes
3. Near the end of his life Degas’s eyesight became extremely poor, and he switched from painting and drawing to making sculpture. But he continued to focus on dancers.
Edgar Degas, Dancer Putting on Her Stocking, 19th century, bronze, gift of the family and friends of Mrs. D. D. Tenney


April 2009