Edgar Degas The Dancing Class

Edgar Degas, The Dancing Class, ca. 1870

Date: ca. 1870
Medium: Oil on wood
Dimensions: 7 3/4 x 10 5/8 in. (19.7 x 27 cm)

Durand-Ruel, a Paris dealer bought this painting from the artist in January 1872. After a few trading with other artists, the painting was purchased by Captain Henry Hill, Brighton 1875 or 1876. On his death his estate sale held by Christie’s, London on May 25, 1889, this painting no. 26, titled “A pas de deux,” sold for 41 guineas to Wallis. Later the painting sold on December 5, 1916, through the artist Mary Cassatt to Havemeyer. Then by Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 to The Met, New York. were it is on view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 815

This early Degas ballet class painting is drafted in his studio because he has not yet secured permission to paint at the theatre, as are the later painting of the ballet. The dancers are posed in his studio along with the props. It is interesting to see other dancers in the mirror but not in the painting. Many of the dancers are posed at an angle to show drama and action. The green watering can in the lower left corner is possible to the dampen the dusty floor and is a similar colour as reflected in the mirror of the wall not in the picture to the right, and on other walls throughout the painting. Notice how the main dancer has the brightest white to make her stand out against the eleven figures composed in a triangle in the picture. All the dancers practicing have pink ballet shoes and most are wearing a pink bow around their waist, the principle dancer being the exception.

The brothel culture of the ballet was so pervasive, as historian Lorraine Coons remarks in her essay “Artiste or coquette? Les petits rats of the Paris Opera ballet,” that even successful dancers who did not resort to prostitution would likely have been suspected to have done so anyway.

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