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A sneak peek about “The Dance Class” by Edgar Degas

Updated: Jun 17, 2023


The Dance Class (1874) by Edgar Degas


Imagine strolling into a class full of ballerinas practicing and conversing, entirely oblivious that you were there. This is seen in several of the Impressionist painter Edgar Degas's works. He offered us insider views of what was going on in the dance classrooms of the Paris Opera throughout the nineteenth century, which is what we will look at in the blog below, notably The Dance Class (1874).


What was the Life of Edgar Degas?

Edgar Degas was born on July 19, 1834, as Hilaire Germain Edgar De Gas but later changed his surname to Degas. His parents were from several nations, including New Orleans and America. He was always interested in painting and planned to study it when he reached 18.


His father pushed him to pursue law, and he entered in 1853, but he began studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1855. Louis Lamothe taught him the art style of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. During his twenties, Degas visited Italy and resided with his brother, René, in New Orleans from 1872 to 1873. In 1917, he resided and died in Paris.


Edgar Degas never seemed to accept the label "Impressionist," preferring to call himself a "Realist" or "Independent." Nonetheless, he was one of the group's founders, an exhibition organizer, and one of its most important core members. He, like the Impressionists, sought to capture fleeting moments in modern life.


The observer Degas

The Dance Class by Degas is arguably one of the most fascinating and strong initiatives among the extant diversity of impressionists' works. Like his previous works, the Dance Class was created using oil on canvas. The artwork uses tight and serious color choices to portray the character of dance as an art form - calm and decisive. In addition to using appropriate techniques and materials, the artist was able to tell a tale that included the past, present, and future.


Looking at this work, one can conclude that Degas was enthusiastic about ballet, not just the stage performance but also the events that occurred during training and rehearsals. There are numerous female ballet dancers and two guys (one in a white suit appears to be a ballet master, and another might be an orchestra man because he is holding the conductor's staff).


The ballerinas appear fatigued, most likely due to the quantity of effort done previously. They remain confident in their acts and ready to pursue their objectives. There are no excess or extraneous individuals or moves -only what a ballet rehearsal requires.


The painting depicts a large group of ballet dancers being led by an elderly man during a rehearsal. Ballet master Jules Perrot (1810-1892), a friend of the artist, was present.

Degas was granted access to these private backstage areas, where he was able to sketch the interior and dancers before finishing the painting in his studio.


Degas sought to emphasize the importance of a working process in this painting. One ballerina dances, another sits on a chair, numerous women watch the performance, and several young girls rehearse and warm up. In other words, everyone is doing something, demonstrating that ballet is not a place to relax or be entertained, but rather a place to work hard and consistently.


The lack of space in the artwork suggests that it is not a real ballet studio, but rather a temporary room for training before a performance. The presence of the arch in the middle of the room and the high ceiling suggests that it is part of an opera house.


The ballet master's job is to instruct and supervise each ballerina's choreography. He raises his hand, indicating that the man agrees to begin the performance and supports the chosen direction. The role of the second man is unknown, but his presence in the room makes the viewer consider his role in the process.


What inspired Edgar Degas to paint ballet dancers?

In his paintings, Degas attempted to capture movement. He never tired of the ballet dancer as a subject and challenge throughout his long artistic career. His backstage access to the Paris Opera's dance rehearsal rooms allowed him to closely observe and sketch the stylized poses of the ballerinas as they went through their paces.


Degas' enduring relationship with the Paris Opera demonstrates his obsessive side — he returned repeatedly. The dancers' difficult training routines: their quest to discipline their bodies to achieve equilibrium, poise, and control mirrored his lifelong artistic effort to translate moment and movement into fixed dynamic images.


"People call me the painter of dancing girls," Degas told Ambroise Vollard, a Parisian art dealer. "They haven't realized that my primary interest in dancers is in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes."


He painted approximately 1,500 dancers throughout his career, culminating in a collection of paintings, pastels, and sculptures that account for more than half of his total oeuvre. Many of these works were created after 1880 when his eyesight began to fail and he chose to focus almost entirely on ballerina studies and similarly voyeuristic Japanese-inspired portraits of women bathing.


His painting sparked a scandal

Although he is best known for his paintings, Degas was also a skilled sculptor who left a large number of sculptures behind when he died. This vast collection included dancers sculpted with a rare sense of realism, which frequently caused a scandal, such as the Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, which Degas exhibited at the Impressionists Salon in 1881 and was deemed "vulgar and bestial" by many critics.


The fact that an upper-class male went to the Opera to mock the dancers' curves, then approached them at the end of their performance to offer them "protection," is blatant hypocrisy.


In the end…

Edgar Degas created an incredible painting that allows the viewer to feel life. The various techniques used by Degas in his painting make it more interesting and even spellbinding. The bold use of bright colors and light pastels stimulates the viewer's imagination, and everyone can see something unique. The most important aspect is that the viewer may or may not like the painting. Nobody, however, is uninterested in the paintings of Edgar Degas.


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