The Dance Foyer At The Opera On The Rue Le Peletier Analysis Essay
“Yesterday I spent the whole day in the studio of a strange painter called Degas,” Parisian man of letters Edmond de Goncourt wrote in his diary in 1874. “Out of all the subjects in modern life he has chosen washerwomen and ballet dancers . . . it is a world of pink and white . . . the most delightful of pretexts for using pale, soft tints.” Edgar Degas, 39 years old at the time, would paint ballerinas for the rest of his career, and de Goncourt was right about the pretext. “People call me the painter of dancing girls,” Degas later told Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard. “It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.”
Degas loved to deflate the image people had of him, but his words ring true, expressing his love for the grace of drawing and the charm of color. As a student Degas dreamed of drawing like Raphael and Michelangelo, and he later revived the French tradition of pastels that had flourished with the 18th-century master Chardin. But like his contemporaries, Manet, Cézanne and the Impressionists, he lived in an age of photography and electricity, and he turned to aspects of modern life—to slums, brothels and horse races—to apply his draftsmanship. Bathing nudes became a favorite subject, but he once compared his more contemporary studies to those of Rembrandt with mocking wit. “He had the luck, that Rembrandt!” Degas said. “He painted Susanna at the bath; me, I paint women at the tub.”
At the ballet Degas found a world that excited both his taste for classical beauty and his eye for modern realism. He haunted the wings and classrooms of the magnificent Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opéra and its Ballet, where some of the city’s poorest young girls struggled to become the fairies, nymphs and queens of the stage. As he became part of this world of pink and white, so full of tradition, he invented new techniques for drawing and painting it. He claimed the ballet for modern art just as Cézanne was claiming the landscape. The writer Daniel Halévy, who as a youth often talked with Degas, later noted that it was at the Opéra that Degas hoped to find subjects of composition as valid as Delacroix had found in history.
Now Degas’s pencil and chalk drawings, monotype prints and pastels, oil paintings and sculptures of ballerinas have been gathered from museums and private collections around the world for an exhibition entitled “Degas and the Dance.” The show was organized by the American Federation of Arts along with the Detroit Institute of the Arts, where it was first shown last year, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it is on display through May 11. In the accompanying catalog, guest curators and art historians Richard Kendall, a Degas authority, and Jill DeVonyar, a former ballet dancer, trace Degas’s life backstage based on their research in the records of the Paris Opéra Ballet. And this month at the Palais Garnier, the Ballet will premiere a dazzling new work, La Petite Danseuse de Degas, about the ballerina who posed for Degas’s most celebrated sculpture, the Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. Sparked by research in the late 1990s by the ballet company’s cultural director, Martine Kahane, and choreographed by Opéra ballet master Patrice Bart, the new work—part fact, part fantasy—is designed to evoke the world of ballet that entranced Degas and to capture the atmosphere of his paintings.
The ballerinas Degas bequeathed to us remain among the most popular images in 19th-century art. The current exhibition is a reminder of just how daring the artist was in creating them. He cropped his pictures as a photographer would (and also became one); he defied traditional composition, opting for asymmetry and radical viewpoints; and he rubbed pastels over his monotype (or one-of-a-kind) prints, creating dramatic effects. Yet he always managed to keep an eye on the great masters of the past. His younger friend, the poet Paul Valéry, described him as “divided against himself; on the one hand driven by an acute preoccupation with truth, eager for all the newly introduced and more or less felicitous ways of seeing things and of painting them; on the other hand possessed by a rigorous spirit of classicism, to whose principles of elegance, simplicity and style he devoted a lifetime of analysis.”
Degas became a painter in an extraordinary period and place. He was born in Paris in 1834, two years after Manet and during a decade that saw the birth of the painters Cézanne, Monet, Renoir and Berthe Morisot and the poets Mallarmé and Verlaine. His father was a banker and art lover who supported his son’s studies, sending him in 1855 to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. The family had branches in Italy and in the United States (his mother was Creole, born in New Orleans), and young Degas went to Italy to study the masters, spending several years in Naples, Florence and Rome, where he copied Vatican treasures and Roman antiquities, before returning to Paris in 1859. There he at first labored with huge canvases—historical subjects and portraits like those Ingres and Delacroix had painted a generation before— for the RoyalAcademy’s official Salon exhibitions. Then in 1862, while copying a Velázquez at the Louvre, Degas met the artist Edouard Manet, who drew him into the circle of Impressionist painters. It was in part due to Manet’s influence that Degas turned to subjects from contemporary life, including café scenes, the theater and dance.
Degas’s affluence was not unique among the painters of his day. His young friend Daniel Halévy called him “one of the children of the Second Empire,” a period that had produced an enormously rich bourgeoisie. These artists, Halévy said, included “the Manets, the Degas, the Cézannes, the Puvis de Chavannes. They pursued their work without asking anything of anyone.” As Halévy saw it, financial independence was the root of modern art in his day. “Their state of liberty is rare in the history of the arts, perhaps unique,” he reflected. “Never were artists freer in their researches.” Degas found a studio and an apartment in the bohemian district of Montmartre, where he lived and worked most of his life. It was a quarter of artists’ studios and cabarets, the well-off and the poor, washerwomen and prostitutes. As Kendall and DeVonyar point out, his neighbors over the years included Renoir, Gustave Moreau (later Matisse’s teacher), Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt and van Gogh, as well as musicians, dancers and other artists who worked at the Paris Opéra and its ballet. One of Degas’s close friends was the writer Ludovic Halévy (Daniel’s father), who collaborated with popular composers such as Delibes, Offenbach and Bizet. The artist could walk from his apartment to the gallery of art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, where he showed one of his first ballet pictures in 1871, and to the old rue Le Peletier opera house, which was destroyed by fire in 1873.
Opera and ballet were a fashionable part of Parisian cultural life, and Degas was likely in the audience long before he began to paint the dancers. Indeed, some of his first dance paintings portray the audience and orchestra as prominently as the ballerinas onstage. Degas also wanted to get behind the scenes, but that wasn’t easy. It was a privilege paid for by wealthy male subscription holders, called abonnés, who often lurked in the foyers, flirted with the dancers in the wings and laid siege to their dressing rooms. Degas at first had to invoke the help of influential friends to slip him into the ballerinas’ private world (he would later become an abonné himself). In a circa 1882 letter to Albert Hecht, a prominent collector and friend, he wrote, “My dear Hecht, Have you the power to get the Opéra to give me a pass for the day of the dance examination, which, so I have been told, is to be on Thursday? I have done so many of these dance examinations without having seen them that I am a little ashamed of it.”
For a time, Degas turned his attention to the abonnés, stalking them as they stalked the dancers. In the 1870s the elder Halévy had written a series of stories, The Cardinal Family, satirizing the often sordid affairs of young dancers, their mothers and the abonnés. Degas produced a suite of monotype prints for the stories, portraying the abonnés as dark, top-hatted figures. (Similar figures would appear in some of his other compositions as well.) Although Halévy didn’t use them when the collection was published, they are among Degas’s most haunting dance images, with a realism reminiscent of the caricatures of his contemporary, Daumier.
Though Degas exhibited his work with the Impressionists, his realism always set him apart. The Impressionists, complained the poet Valéry, “reduced the whole intellectual side of art to a few questions about texture and the coloring of shadows. The brain became nothing but retina.” Degas’s contemporaries saw something more in his work. Daniel Halévy described it as a “depoetization” of life, a fascination with the simplest, most intimate, least beautiful gestures— ballerinas stretching at the bar, practicing positions, waiting in the wings, taking instruction, scratching themselves, tying their shoes, adjusting their tutus, rubbing sore muscles, fixing their hair, fanning, talking, flirting, daydreaming, and doing almost everything but dancing. Degas’s pictures of ballerinas performing onstage convey exquisitely what makes ballet ballet—all that balance, grace and radiance that a contemporary critic called “mimed poetry, dream made visible.” But, paradoxically, Degas preferred to portray ballet by stripping away the poetry and illusion to show the hard work, the boredom, the more common beauty behind the scenes. In a sonnet written about 1889, Degas addressed the young ballerinas: “One knows that in your world / Queens are made of distance and greasepaint.”
Some complained that the greasepaint showed. Degas’s idol Ingres, who had advised him as a neophyte painter to draw constantly from memory and nature, and who had painted dancing nymphs into his own romantic tableaus, longed for the more courtly ballet of earlier days. “We see wretches disfigured by their efforts, red, inflamed with fatigue, and so indecently strapped-up that they would be more modest if they were naked,” he wrote.
In 1875, a new Paris opera house opened—the Palais Garnier, named after its architect, Charles Garnier. It was a towering edifice of marble ornament and gilded decor, all but encrusted with antique statuary and classic murals. Garnier designed a mirrored foyer for backstage, he wrote, “as a setting for the charming swarms of ballerinas, in their picturesque and coquettish costumes.” To the young student dancers, affectionately called “petit rats,” Degas with his sketch pad became a familiar sight. Abackstage friend noted, “He comes here in the morning. He watches all the exercises in which the movements are analyzed, and . . . nothing in the most complicated step escapes his gaze.” One ballerina later recalled that he “used to stand at the top or bottom of the many staircases . . . drawing the dancers as they rushed up and down.” Sometimes he made notes on his drawings, criticizing a dancer’s balance, or the placement of a leg. On one sketch he jotted down a teacher’s comment about a student’s awkwardness: “She looks like a dog pissing.”
But the drawings Degas made backstage were few compared with the prodigious number he produced in his studio, where he paid petit rats and accomplished ballerinas to pose. In fact, Degas’s studio was once visited by an inspector from the police morals unit, wanting to know why so many little girls were coming and going. “Think of it!” writes the Opéra’s Martine Kahane. “The district of prostitutes and laundresses was alarmed!”
Degas enjoyed the company of these dancers, who shared gossip with him as they posed, but his affection for them was paternal. Trying to advance the career of one young dancer, he wrote to Ludovic Halévy, “You must know what a dancer is like who wants you to put in a word for her. She comes back twice a day to know if one has seen, if one has written. . . . And she wants it done at once. And she would like, if she could, to take you in her arms wrapped in a blanket and carry you to the Opéra!”
Unlike his brother Achille, who had an affair with a ballerina, Degas seems to have remained chaste and was, in the view of many, a misogynist. When told that a certain lady failed to show up at one of his dinners because she was “suffering,” he relayed her comment scornfully to a friend. “Wasn’t it true?” the friend asked. “How does one ever know?” retorted Degas. “Women invented the word ‘suffering.’ ” Yet he became close friends with a number of women, including painters Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, and some of the leading opera divas and prima ballerinas of the day.
Later in life Degas gained a reputation as a recluse, even a misanthrope. This was partly because his eyesight began failing in the 1870s, a problem that often depressed him. But his biting wit helped to isolate him as well. “I am not a misanthrope, far from it,” he told Daniel Halévy in 1897, “but it is sad to live surrounded by scoundrels.” He could put people off—“I want people to believe me wicked,” he once declared— but he had misgivings about his attitude. In his 60s, he wrote to a friend, “I am meditating on the state of celibacy, and a good three quarters of what I tell myself is sad.”
The sketches Degas made in his studio and backstage at the Opéra were only the starting point for an artist who loved to experiment and rarely considered anything finished. He would make repeated tracings from his drawings as a way of correcting them, recalled Vollard. “He would usually make the corrections by beginning the new figure outside of the original outlines, the drawing growing larger and larger until a nude no bigger than a hand became life-size—only to be abandoned in the end.” The single figures in his sketches would show up in his paintings as part of a group, only to reappear in other scenes in other paintings.
When a friend taught him how to make a monotype print by drawing on an inked plate that was then run through a press, Degas at once did something unexpected. After making one print, he quickly made a second, faded impression from the leftover ink on the plate, then worked with pastels and gouache over this ghostly image. The result was an instant success—a collector bought the work, The Ballet Master, on the advice of Mary Cassatt.
More important, this technique gave Degas a new way to depict the artificial light of the stage. The soft colors of his pastels took on a striking luminosity when laid over the harsher black-and-white contrasts of the underlying ink. Degas showed at least five of these images in 1877 at the third Impressionist exhibition in Paris—a show that, art historian Charles Stuckey points out, included “the daring series of smoke-filled views inside the Gare St. Lazare by Monet and the large, sun-speckled group portrait at the Moulin de la Galette by Renoir.”
During the last 20 years of his career, Degas worked in a large fifth-floor studio in lower Montmartre above his living quarters and a private museum for his own art collection. Paul Valéry sometimes visited him there: “He would take me into a long attic room,” Valéry wrote, “with a wide bay window (not very clean) where light and dust mingled gaily. The room was pell-mell—with a basin, a dull zinc bathtub, stale bathrobes, a dancer modeled in wax with a real gauze tutu in a glass case, and easels loaded with charcoal sketches.” Valéry and other visitors also noticed stacks of paintings turned against the walls, a piano, double basses, violins and a scattering of ballet shoes and dusty tutus. Prince Eugen of Sweden, who visited in 1896, “wondered how Degas could find any specific color in the jumble of crumbling pastels.”
The wax model of a dancer in a tutu standing in a glass case was undoubtedly Degas’s Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. When it was first shown, at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881, the work was adorned with a real costume and hair. Two-thirds life-size, it was too real for many viewers, who found her “repulsive,” a “flower of the gutter.” But in her pose Degas had caught the essence of classical ballet, beautifully illustrating an 1875 technique manual’s admonition that a ballerina’s “shoulders must be held low and the head lifted. . . . ” Degas never exhibited the Little Dancer again, keeping it in his studio among the many other wax models that he used for making new drawings. The sculpture was cast in bronze (some 28 are now known to exist) only after his death in 1917, at age 83.
The girl who posed for Degas’s Little Dancer, Marie van Goethem, lived near his studio and took classes at the Opéra’s ballet school. She was one of three sisters, all training to become ballerinas, and all apparently sketched by Degas. According to Martine Kahane, Marie passed all her early exams, rising from the ranks of petit rats to enter the corps de ballet at 15, a year after Degas made the sculpture. But only two years later, she was dismissed because she was late or absent at the ballet too often. Madame van Goethem, a widow who was working as a laundress, was apparently prostituting her daughters. In an 1882 newspaper clipping titled “Paris at Night,” Marie was said to be a regular at two all-night cafés, the Rat Mort and the brasserie des Martyrs, hangouts of artists, models, bohemians, journalists and worse. The writer continued, “Her mother . . . But no: I don’t want to say any more. I’d say things that would make one blush, or make one cry.” Marie’s older sister, Antoinette, was arrested for stealing money from her lover’s wallet at a bar called Le Chat Noir, and landed in jail for three months. The youngest sister, Charlotte, became a soloist with the Ballet and, it would be nice to think, lived happily ever after. But Marie seems to have disappeared without a trace.
Emile Zola made novels of such tales, and now the Opéra’s ballet master, Patrice Bart, 58, has turned Marie’s story into a modern ballet. For Bart, who joined the ballet school at age 10, it’s a labor of love. “A lot of the story took place in the Palais Garnier,” he says. “And I have been living in the Palais Garnier for 42 years. Voilà!” He won a place in the corps de ballet at 14, and became an étoile, or star, in his 20s. In the 1980s he danced for the company’s renowned director, Russian defector Rudolf Nureyev, and at age 40 he took on the role of ballet master and choreographer.
In his new ballet, Bart comes to grips with the same issue that confronted Degas: the synthesis of tradition and innovation. “I was a classical dancer,” he says, “and I try to move slightly toward the modern stuff.” Nureyev, he says, taught him to be aware of new ways of thinking, of dancing. “If you deny this, he believed, it will be the end of classical ballet. And that’s what Degas did, working in a classical world, but the painting was very modern.”
Bart’s ballet opens with a ballerina posed like the Little Dancer, encased in a glass box. The glass drops down and the Little Dancer comes to life, stepping into a montage of scenes from her story as well as Bart’s imagination. “There was no man in that story,” he says, “but to make a ballet you have to have a man and a lady, to make pas de deux, pas de trois. So I added the role of the abonné, the ideal masculine man.” In the ballet, the Little Dancer becomes an étoile before the evil mother corrupts her and she goes to prison. Throughout the piece, the dancers mix modern dance moves with their classical glissades and pirouettes. “And then,” says Bart, “in a classical ballet from the 19th century you always have the white act, what we call the ballet blanc. So I thought I’d make a scene where she becomes a laundress, and the stage is filled with white sheets, and she sort of fades out, as when people die.” As for Degas, he appears in Bart’s ballet only as a mysterious, dark, top-hatted figure, like one of the abonnés he painted, wandering through the scenes. At the end of the ballet, the glass box comes up from the floor and the Little Dancer is once again trapped inside.
“I hope the ballet will bring Degas to life for young dancers now,” Bart says. “That’s why I created the role of the étoile, because it’s every little girl starting school, thinking maybe one day. . . . And very few get there. I want to create the atmosphere of Degas, but not as in a museum. It’s like a painting coming to life.”
Degas would surely have loved to see these dancers at work on a ballet inspired by his creation. “With the exception of the heart, it seems to me that everything within me is growing old in proportion,” he wrote to a friend in January 1886. “And even this heart of mine has something artificial. The dancers have sewn it into a bag of pink satin, pink satin slightly faded, like their dancing shoes.”
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The Painting: In 1873, the great opera baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure commissioned from Degas a picture depicting ballerinas of the Opera ballet corps at an examination or dance class (Pantazzi 1988). (Faure became a major collector of Impressionist paintings and, eventually, the owner of the largest collection of Degas’s paintings in France.) The present work was delivered to Faure in November 1874, and Degas was paid five thousand francs for it. Faure lent it to the second Impressionist exhibition of 1876 under the title Examen de danse (Reff 1976; Clayson 1986).
At the right side of this nearly square canvas, though seemingly at the center of the room, stands the famed ballet master Jules Perrot (1810–1892), with both arms outstretched and hands resting on a long cane. With his face presented in profil perdu (literally, a lost profile, with the head at a three-quarter angle), Perrot looks to the dancer at center as she executes a piqué attitude, with her right arm raised high, left arm straight out to her side, and right leg bent toward her back. While the dancer in a pink sash practices this pose for Perrot, a flurry of activity surrounds these two central figures. A dancer in a blue sash practices before the mirror, while others at left and at rear look on, adjust their costumes, or await their turns, keeping their toes pointed and legs turned out all the while.
Degas purposefully integrates into the composition the casual posing of dancers at rest: the dancer with a pink choker who stands on the bleachers and leans against the wall; the girl to whom she looks, with legs turned out even while resting and adjusting her choker; and the two dancers sitting on the front step both practicing their pointed toes at rest—one with legs crossed, the other with legs spread in a makeshift plié.
Older women in frock coats and hats who serve as dancers’ chaperones sit on the bleachers at rear and observe the scene or chat. Hints of the world beyond the ballet also include the mirror view toward buildings with smokestacks in the distance and a poster on the wall for Gioachino Rossini’s (1792–1869) opera Guillaume Tell, a nod to Degas’s patron Faure, who had received many accolades when starring in the opera.
At left, a bass placed on the ground is radically cropped and placed at an acute angle to the left picture edge, much like the dancer cropped vertically to a mere third of a figure at far right, most probably compositional ideas suggested to Degas by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. A musical score, left purposely illegible, rests on the music stand to the right of the piano. Any accompanist or accompanists have been cropped out of the image to focus on the activity among the dancers themselves. The red and pink carnations worn by a few of the ballerinas as well as the colored sashes and black-ribboned chokers with lockets are elements of their costumes that were not normally worn in practice rooms.
So is this a rehearsal, an examination, or a lesson? The title under which it was exhibited in 1874 indicates an examination by Perrot, while the costume elements point to what could be a last examination before a dress rehearsal (hence, the girls on the bleachers, and possibly one at far left, who fuss with their newly-issued lockets). While one writer argued that Degas knew the examinations took place on the stage and the artist would not have taken liberties at this early date (Browse 1949), another scholar (Herbert 1988) has called this image a "pure invention," rather than a scene that the artist copied. It is perhaps for this very reason that it is difficult to assign the precise nature of this grouping of ballerinas and teacher.
Degas’s fellow painter and great friend Mary Cassatt described this work as "more beautiful than any Ver Meer [sic] I ever saw" (quoted in Weitzenhoffer 1986). Her comparison of the painting to a Dutch seventeenth-century precedent is much like contemporary comparisons of Degas’s Portraits in an Office (New Orleans) (1873; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pau) to the works of Vermeer and early Flemish painters (discussed in Pantazzi 1988 and Marilyn R. Brown, Degas and the Business of Art: A Cotton Office in New Orleans, University Park, PA, 1994, pp. 4–5, 76). When The Met’s picture was on view at the second Impressionist exhibition with the Pau picture, the latter received much more attention.
The Paris Opera Ballet: From early on, Degas attended operas and ballets in Paris and had begun to sketch from these performances by 1860. In the first half of the 1870s, he was spending a great deal of time with the Paris Opera Ballet, observing ballet classes and rehearsals taking place in the classrooms, rehearsal rooms, and on stage. The first location for these observations and sketches was the opera house on the rue le Pelletier; after the Salle Le Pelletier burned to the ground in a fire from unknown causes in 1873, the practice site shifted temporarily to the Salle Ventadour until Charles Garnier’s new opera house was completed and inaugurated in January 1875. The scene in this picture takes place in the first opera house, despite its demise by 1874; the room has been tentatively identified as one of the rooms in the dormer story of the building (DeVonyar and Kendall 2002).
The Opera’s ballet corps was an internationally renowned, permanent ballet company of two hundred performers. This national ballet troupe often appeared with the national opera in the same productions. The ballet master Jules Perrot had a long career with the Opera ballet as a dancer, teacher, and choreographer, beginning as a dancer at age twenty in 1830. After his contract as a dancer with the troupe was not renewed in 1835, Perrot performed and staged ballets throughout Europe and served as ballet master at the Imperial theaters in Saint Petersburg from 1849 to 1860, before returning to Paris in 1861. By 1874, at age sixty-four, he was a retired ballet master teaching frequent classes at the Opera in his later years.
In his scores of paintings, drawings, and prints of scenes at the ballet, Degas never depicted male dancers. His interest in the ballet rats (literally, "rats," as they were called)—the young girls who, often, were taken from the lower classes and transformed through the regimen of repetitive learned motions of the ballet corps into disciplined "higher-order" ballet "machines"—has been related to his interest in the telling details of habitual gestures and body movements as revelatory of a person’s origins or social class (Kirk Varnedoe, A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern, New York, 1990, pp. 116–18, 123). Girls as young as fourteen years old were a part of the ballet corps, and Degas explored their transformations and what he might have termed telltale physiognomies in sculpture as well (see The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer [The Met, 29.100.370] and Study in the Nude for The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer [The Met, 29.100.373]). The opera house was, of course, a place, too, where an artist could sit undisturbed and surreptitiously observe and sketch bodies in motion without the somewhat stilted quality of the traditional relationship of model and painter in the studio.
Studies for the Painting and Its Near-Double: X-radiographs of the painting reveal several revisions, including changes in the size of the mirror, the placement of the central dancer, the head and feet positions of the dancer at front left, and the addition of the second dancer from left (seen in profile and mostly obstructed from view) (Tinterow 1987). Degas began an earlier version of this subject in the same format in late 1873, La classe de danse (Musée d’Orsay, Paris; see Additional Images, fig. 1). While intending it for Faure, the painter abandoned it temporarily after several revisions and turned to The Met’s picture in autumn of 1874 (Pantazzi 1988). Variously called a variation of the Orsay picture (Meier-Graefe 1920, Pickvance 1963), a replica of it or a replica with variations (Lemoisne 1946–49, Jamot 1924), and even "possibly a better version" of the Orsay picture (Manson 1927), The Met’s picture differs from the Orsay version in that whereas our picture includes a mirror reflecting the city outside and the dancers on the bleachers within, the long wall in the green room in the Orsay picture is divided by an ornately decorated wide doorway leading to another room with a window visible. The Orsay version’s long wall is punctuated by what appear to be malachite pilasters whereas this wall, in The Met’s picture, is bare of decoration save the framed poster, the mirror, and a small door also in green that has barely been defined. In addition, the bleachers at rear are less defined and less high, and a number of the dancers appear in different poses and with different colored sashes in the Orsay version (greens and yellows among them and fewer pastel tones). The visiting chaperones have been banished from the scene in the Paris picture, while Perrot appears almost identical in each. Most notably, the two dark-haired dancers with arms akimbo in the left foreground have been replaced in the Orsay version with one dancer who faces into the action, and thereby leads the viewer into the scene. Although begun before The Met painting, the Orsay picture was probably finished after it, in 1875–76 (Pantazzi 1988).
A charcoal drawing of Perrot (see Additional Images, fig. 2) and two drawings of a dancer adjusting her strap (3rd Degas sale, no. 166.1; 4th Degas sale, no. 138a, private collection, New York) have been associated with The Met’s picture (Pantazzi 1988). In addition, The Met’s Two Dancers (29.100.187) and Seated Dancer (29.100.942), the Louvre’s Standing Dancer Seen from Behind (see Additional Images, fig. 3), and Study of Legs (private collection, New York, reproduced in DeVonyar and Kendall 2002, p. 143, fig. 154) have all been linked to figures in it. An essence drawing of Perrot (Philadelphia Museum of Art), notably with the more pronounced wrinkles in his coat fabric also found in the Orsay picture, has been called a study for the revised Orsay version only (Pantazzi 1988). These studies provide proof of the artist’s working method and that his paintings were studied presentations of the ballet world, rather than spontaneous impressions.
[Jane R. Becker 2016]
Inscription: Signed (lower left): Degas
Jean-Baptiste Faure, Paris (1874–98; received from the artist in November 1874, for Fr 5,000; sold on February 19, 1898 for Fr 10,000 to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1898; stock no. 4562, as "Le foyer de la danse"; transferred to Durand-Ruel, New York, March 16, 1898; stock no. 1977; sold April 4, 1898 for $25,000 to Payne]; Colonel Oliver H. Payne, New York (1898–d. 1917); his nephew, Harry Payne Bingham, New York (1917–d. 1955); his widow, Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, New York (1955–d. 1986)
Paris. 11, rue Le Peletier. "2e exposition de peinture [2nd Impressionist exhibition]," April 1876, no. 37 (as "Examen de danse," lent by M. F...).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings," May 3–September 15, 1921, no. 27 (as "Le Foyer de la dance [sic]," lent by Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "New York Collects," July 3–September 2, 1968, no. 50 (as "Le Foyer de la danse," lent by Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, no. 17 (as "The Dance Class," lent anonymously).
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Degas," February 9–May 16, 1988, no. 130.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Degas," June 16–August 28, 1988, no. 130.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Degas," September 27, 1988–January 8, 1989, no. 130.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no cat. number (fig. 59).
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Degas and the Dance," October 20, 2002–January 12, 2003, unnumbered cat. (pl. 127).
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Degas and the Dance," February 12–May 11, 2003, unnumbered cat. (pl. 127).
Ph[ilippe]. Burty. "Fine Art: The Exhibition of the 'Intransigeants'." Academy (April 15, 1876), pp. 363–64 [reprinted in Ref. Berson 1996, vol. 1, p. 65], mentions "the green-room of the Opera" among pictures by Degas.
Pierre Dax. "Chronique." L'Artiste 1 (May 1, 1876), pp. 347–49 [reprinted in Ref. Berson 1996, vol. 1, p. 70].
Georges Grappe. Edgar Degas. Berlin, , ill. p. 21, as "Le Foyer de la danse; Das Foyer der Tanzschule; The Dancer's Foyer".
P.-A Lemoisne. Degas. Paris, 1912, p. 60, dates it 1875 based on a drawing of the ballet master, whom he identifies as Plucque, dated the same year.
Julius Meier-Graefe. Degas. Munich, 1920, p. 41, pl. 16 [English ed., 1923, p. 56, pl. XVI], as "La Classe de danse"; dates it 1872–73 and calls it a variation of the picture in the Musée d'Orsay (L341), claiming that both pictures support "the mischievous idea that Degas wanted to be a kind of Meissonier"; identifies the ballet master as Moraine.
Royal Cortissoz. "Modern Unrest in French Art: Some Leading Types Shown At the Metropolitan." New York Tribune (May 8, 1921), p. 7, ill.
Paul Jamot. Degas. Paris, 1924, p. 144, pl. 40, dates it about 1875 and calls it a replica with variations of the Orsay picture.
Ambroise Vollard. Degas (1834–1917). Paris, 1924, ill. opp. p. 96, as "La répétition au foyer de la danse".
J. B. Manson. The Life and Work of Edgar Degas. London, 1927, p. 21, calls it "possibly a better" version of the Orsay picture.
Marcel Guérin, ed. Lettres de Degas. Paris, 1931, p. 16 n. 1 [English ed., New York, (1948), p. 261], states that in 1872 Faure commissioned this work from Degas, who delivered it in 1874 and received in payment Fr 5,000.
Marguerite Rebatet. Degas. Paris, 1944, pl. 77, dates it about 1874–76 and erroneously locates it at the MMA.
P[aul]. A[ndré]. Lemoisne. Degas et son œuvre. [reprint 1984]. Paris, [1946–49], vol. 1, pp. 92, 99, 102; vol. 2, pp. 180, 194, 214–15, no. 397, ill., calls it "Examen de danse (Classe de danse)" and dates it about 1876; identifies the setting as possibly the Salle Ventadour; notes that Faure paid Fr 5,000 for this picture in 1874; calls it a replica of the Orsay picture (L341); mentions the two studies for the ballet master in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (L364) and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
John Rewald. "The Realism of Degas." Magazine of Art 39 (January 1946), p. 13, ill., dates it about 1872.
Lillian Browse. Degas Dancers. New York, , pp. 53–54, 341, 343, pl. 23, calls it "La Classe de danse de M. Perrot" and dates it about 1874–76; remarks that the figure of a seated dancer also appears in a drawing, though with the arms and head placed differently (about 1873; MMA 29.100.942); doubts that this picture was the "Examen de danse" lent by Faure to the 2nd Impressionist exhibition, arguing that Degas knew the examinations took place on the stage of the Opera, and would not have taken liberties at this early date.
Pierre Cabanne. Edgar Degas. Paris, , pp. 98, 108–9, under no. 36 [English ed., 1958], dates it about 1876 on p. 108 and 1876 on p. 109.
Jakob Rosenberg. Great Draughtsmen from Pisanello to Picasso. Cambridge, Mass., 1959, p. 113, dates it 1876.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. New York, 1961, pp. 33, 263–64, 289, describes how Mr. Havemeyer encouraged Colonel Payne to buy this picture rather than purchase it for himself, and later remarked to her "If ever you have a chance, get that picture back. The Colonel does not care for it and would rather buy one of the English school".
Ronald Pickvance. "Degas's Dancers: 1872–6." Burlington Magazine 105 (June 1963), p. 259 nn. 35, 38, p. 264, calls it "L'Examen de danse," dates it 1873–74, and calls it a compositional variant of the Orsay picture.
Lillian Browse. "Degas's Grand Passion." Apollo 85 (February 1967), p. 109, fig. 5, calls it "La Classe de danse de M. Perrot" and dates it about 1874–76.
Fiorella Minervino inL'opera completa di Degas. Milan, 1970, p. 109, no. 488, ill., dates it about 1876.
Anthea Callen. "Jean-Baptiste Faure, 1830–1914: A Study of a Patron and Collector of the Impressionists and their Contemporaries." Master's thesis, University of Leicester, 1971, p. 161, no. 194, fig. 1, erroneously identifies it as no. 54 in the 1st Impressionist exhibition.
Charles S. Moffett inImpressionism: A Centenary Exhibition. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1974, pp. 104–7, no. 17, ill. (color) [French ed., "Centenaire de l'impressionnisme," Éditions des musées nationaux, Paris, 1974], calls it "The Dance Class" and dates it 1875–76; believes that the changes between this picture and the earlier Orsay version were made to add greater subtlety and finesse to the composition.
Theodore Reff. The Notebooks of Edgar Degas: A Catalogue of the Thirty-Eight Notebooks in the Bibliothèque Nationale and Other Collections. Oxford, 1976, vol. 1, p. 125 (notebook 26, p. 74), records a list of pictures made in preparation for the 2nd Impressionist exhibition that includes the notation "Danseuses Faure," a reference to this painting.
Roy McMullen. Degas: His Life, Times, and Work. Boston, 1984, p. 249, notes that Faure bought it for Fr 5,000 in 1874.
George T. M. Shackelford. Degas: The Dancers. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1984, pp. 52–53, 63 n. 19, fig. 2.8, calls it a reprise of the Orsay picture, in which Degas may have wished to "reassert the importance of a forward-facing dancer" who had been painted over in the earlier composition; remarks that ours is "almost certainly a later variant of the Paris version of the painting because it exhibits almost no pentimenti, whereas in the Paris version many of the figures have been moved or overpainted"; describes the final effect of our picture as "disturbingly unbalanced".
Frances Weitzenhoffer. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, 1986, pp. 126–27, 130–31, 219, 222, colorpl. 79, calls it "The Dance Lesson" and dates it about 1874; quotes Mary Cassatt's opinion that this picture "is more beautiful than any Ver Meer I ever saw"; relates that Colonel Payne refused to lend this picture to Mrs. Havemeyer's April 1915 exhibition benefitting women's suffrage held at Knoedler.
Hollis Clayson inThe New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886. Ed. Charles S. Moffett. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington. San Francisco, 1986, p. 161, identifies it as no. 37 in the 2nd Impressionist exhibition.
Gary Tinterow inRecent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1986–1987. New York, 1987, pp. 39–40, ill. (overall and color detail) and on cover (color), calls it "The Dance Class" and dates it 1873–74; states that Faure commissioned it in 1872 and that it was delivered to him in November 1874; asserts that although the "rushing perspective, nearly square format, and crowded composition" derive from "Portraits in an Office (New Orleans)" (Musée Municipal de Pau, France), Degas never surpassed this picture's complexity of figural arrangements and variety of poses; notes that radiographs reveal several revisions and that the drawings for this and the Orsay version provided a repertory of poses for his ballet pictures over the next decade.
John Russell. "Turkish and Other Delights." New York Times Magazine (August 30, 1987), pp. 71, 110, ill. (color).
Michael Pantazzi inDegas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 221–23 n. 12, pp. 234, 236–37, 240, 242–44, 274, 325, no. 130, ill. (color), provides details of Faure's transactions with Degas, stating that he commissioned a picture of an examination or dance class in 1873; notes that Degas began the Orsay version in late 1873, intending it for Faure, but after many revisions temporarily abandoned it and painted our picture in 1874, delivering it to Faure by November of that year; considers the essence drawing of Perrot (Philadelphia Museum of Art) to be a study for the revised Orsay picture, which was finally completed in 1875–76; mentions the charcoal drawing of Perrot (Fitzwilliam Museum) and two drawings of dancers as studies for our picture (3rd Degas sale, no. 166.1; 4th Degas sale, no. 138a, private collection, New York).
Jean Sutherland Boggs inDegas. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. New York, 1988, pp. 26, 32 n. 30, fig. 4 (color detail).
Barbara Scott. "The Triumph of Degas." Apollo 127 (April 1988), p. 283, calls it fresher and more luminous than the Orsay version.
Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge. Degas. New York, 1988, p. 273, ill. p. 62 (color).
Robert L. Herbert. Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society. New Haven, 1988, pp. 124, 127, colorpl. 129, dates it about 1876; calls both this and the Orsay version "pure inventions, not scenes that the artist somehow copied".
Michael Kimmelman. "New Metropolitan Galleries Open with Degas." New York Times (September 26, 1988), p. C19.
Gary Tinterow and Anne Norton. "Degas aux expositions impressionnistes." Degas inédit: Actes du Colloque Degas. Paris, 1989, p. 297, identify it as no. 37 in the 2nd Impressionist exhibition.
Richard Thomson. "The Degas Exhibition in Ottawa and New York." Burlington Magazine 131 (April 1989), pp. 293–94.
Anne Distel. Impressionism: The First Collectors. New York, 1990, p. 89, colorpl. 72.
Henri Loyrette. Degas. Paris, 1991, pp. 362, 742 n. 192.
Carol Armstrong. Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas. Chicago, 1991, pp. 54, 131–32, fig. 23.
Everett Fahy. "Selected Acquisitions of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987–1991." Burlington Magazine 133 (November 1991), pp. 801, 808, colorpl. XIII.
Linda Nochlin. "A House is not a Home: Degas and the Subversion of the Family." Dealing with Degas: Representations of Women and the Politics of Vision. Ed. Richard Kendall and Griselda Pollock. London, 1992, p. 57, claims that the inclusion of stage mothers in the background of works like this one may imply procuration, not chaperonage.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1930, repr. 1961]. New York, 1993, pp. 33, 263–64, 289, 313 n. 68, p. 339 n. 395, p. 344 n. 456, states that Payne bought this picture for $25,000 from Durand-Ruel.
Susan Alyson Stein inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 223, fig. 59, notes that Durand-Ruel first recommended this picture for purchase to the Havemeyers.
Rebecca A. Rabinow inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 89, 91, states that Payne would not lend to Mrs. Havemeyer's 1915 exhibition because of his antisuffrage position.
Henri Loyrette. Degas: The Man and His Art. New York, 1993, pp. 81–83, 86, ill. (color).
Marilyn R. Brown. Degas and the Business of Art: A Cotton Office in New Orleans. University Park, Pa., 1994, pp. 105, 126.
Richard Thomson. Edgar Degas: Waiting. Malibu, 1995, pp. 40, 94 n. 84, cites this painting as an early example of the appearance of older women waiting for their charges in the dancing classes depicted by Degas, arguing that their presence does not imply impropriety [see Ref. Nochlin 1992].
Ruth Berson, ed. "Documentation: Volume I, Reviews and Volume II, Exhibited Works." The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886. San Francisco, 1996, vol. 1, p. 70; vol. 2, p. 34, no. II-37, ill. p. 48, identifies it as no. 37 in the 2nd Impressionist exhibition.
Lillian Schacherl. Edgar Degas: Dancers and Nudes. Munich, 1997, p. 18.
Rebecca A. Rabinow. "Modern Art Comes to the Metropolitan: The 1921 Exhibition of 'Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings'." Apollo 152 (October 2000), pp. 6, 10, 12, fig. 10 (color).
Richard Shone. The Janice H. Levin Collection of French Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2002, p. 39.
Jill DeVonyar and Richard Kendall. Degas and the Dance. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 2002, pp. 54, 79, 107, 119, 129, 141, 143, 202–3, 211, 289, colorpl. 127, tentatively identify the setting as one of the rooms in the dormer story, on the eastern side of the courtyard of the opera house.
Jill DeVonyar and Richard Kendall inMaster Drawings, 1700–1900. Exh. cat., W. M. Brady & Co., Inc. New York, 2002, unpaginated, under no. 32, fig. 10 (color detail), relate a sketch of dancer's feet (IV: 138a) to figures in this picture.
John Richardson. "Degas and the Dancers." Vanity Fair (October 2002), pp. 334–35, ill. (color).
Stephen May. "Shadows Behind the Curtain." Art & Antiques 26 (June 2003), p. 74, ill.
Maria Teresa Benedetti inDegas: Classico e moderno. Ed. Maria Teresa Benedetti. Exh. cat., Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome. Milan, 2004, p. 264.
Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. Nineteenth-Century European Art. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2006, pp. 399–401, fig. 16-32 (color).
Art Impressionniste et Moderne dont un ensemble d'oeuvres provenant de l'atelier Degas. Christie's, Paris. May 24, 2006, p. 50, under no. 27, states that a period photograph of The Met's picture must have been made between fall 1874, when the artist was known to have been working on the picture, and fall 1875, when the delivery to Faure is stated to have occurred (but see Guérin 1931).
Alastair Macaulay. "Degas's Ballet Students Teach the Lessons of Their Art." New York Times (September 3, 2008), pp. E1, E5, ill. (color).
Jane Kinsman. Degas: The Uncontested Master. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia. Canberra, 2008, p. 128 n. 2, p. 130.
Michael Pantazzi in Jane Kinsman. Degas: The Uncontested Master. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Australia. Canberra, 2008, p. 248.
Colin B. Bailey inMasterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein and Asher Ethan Miller. 4th rev. ed. [1st ed., 1989]. New York, 2009, pp. 28, 31 n. 4.
Elizabeth Cowling in Elizabeth Cowling and Richard Kendall. Picasso Looks at Degas. Exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Williamstown, Mass., 2010, p. 317 n. 98.
Richard Kendall and Jill DeVonyar. Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 2011, p. 257, state that René De Gas photographed the painting in 1874–75 on the basis of Christie's 2006, which states only that in the early 1870s René had his brother's paintings photographed as soon as they were finished and does not clearly specify that the period photograph of The Met's painting was among that group.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 442, no. 374, ill. pp. 380, 442 (color).
A period photograph of the painting by an unidentified photographer was found in the artist's atelier at his death and stayed in the collection of the Degas family until its appearance as number 27 in a sale at Christie's, Paris, on May 24, 2006.