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Ecole de danse

Artist: Edgar Degas
Created: 1873
Dimensions (cm): 62.5 x 48.3
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, USA

Much of Degas' career was dedicated to the study of movement. The artist was fascinated by the number and variety of movements that create motion. Nowhere can this interest be seen more clearly than in Degas' vast series of works on ballerinas, one of Degas' favorite subjects.

The Dance Class brings the viewer into an intimate yet active scene in which a number dancers are gathered to practice in a dance studio.

Degas uses a number of techniques to create a feeling of connection between the viewer and the scene. The canvas is framed in such a way that the spiral staircase and the windows in the background are cut off, as are the group of ballerinas in the right foreground. This framing technique draws the viewer into the setting. The strong diagonal lines of the wall bases and floorboards which directly follow the dancers' lines of movement further bring the observer into the rehearsal space. The figures are not centered and Degas leaves a large empty space which creates the impression of a continuous floor. This unusual use of space may have been inspired by Japanese prints and is typical of Degas.

Other artistic techniques create balance in the work. The coherence of the ballon-shaped staircase and the billowing skirts of the dancers is appealing. The generally muted colors are interspersed with the brightness of the pink ballet sashes and the flecks of red and green in the dancers' hair and clothing. The dappled sunlight falling across the floor gives the impression of vibrancy.

In The Dance Class, Degas uses unusual framing and figure placement in order to add a modern touch to the underlying formal harmony of the piece.

The number of dancers portrayed in the painting is the largest group to appear in any of Degas' compositions. The emphasis of the piece, as with many of Degas' studies of ballerinas, is on the moments of rest which occur between performances. This work, however, presents more movement than had ever appeared in any of Degas' previous dance paintings.

The Dance Class takes the viewer into a dimly lit room which opens into a larger, brighter rehearsal space. It is possible that this space is the foyer of the Opera on rue Le Peletier, although the location cannot be confirmed.

There is an overall air of informality in the work. The unusual design allows the viewer to witness part of the action; the rest is implied. We see only the legs and skirts of the cropped figures who both descend and stand behind the spiral staircase in the left foreground. A red fan lies dropped on the floor, pink slippers sit on the bench. The poses of some of the dancers are humorous in their gracelessness; one ballerina is awkwardly bending over, another is absent-mindedly biting her thumb. This overall levity of tone balances the moodiness of the lighting.

Degas' attention-to-detail and skilful technique can be clearly recognized in this work, which demonstrates important developments in the artist's style and technique.


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