Edgar Degas - The Dance Lesson, 1879. Oil on canvas
Degas was interested in the natural cycles of activity and rest that he observed behind the scenes at the Opera House. In The Dance Lesson, he focused on these in-between times when the dancers, released briefly from their strenuous practice regimen, could relax. In Before the Ballet, he depicted the entire cycle of activity and rest in one painting. Degas greatly admired the young dancers’ athleticism and controlled energy; he tried to capture the tension inherent in the life of a working ballerina in his painting.
In honor of the artist’s birthday, here’s a favorite Degas of mine. During the time the artist was painting, becoming a ballerina wasn’t a glamorous life. Many of the girls were very poor, not often considered beautiful, and generally undertook the profession in order to provide some money for their family. Often, though Degas would paint them in beautiful moments while they practiced thier art, their faces would show signs of physiognomic profiling: rather than extolling grace and youth, they were often rough and somewhat skewed, reflecing their status as working-class. This painting, though, shows them in a moment of repose, their faces largely hidden, allowing their beauty to show through despite the artist’s hand.