The dance lesson | Edgar Degas | 1876

The dance lesson | Edgar Degas | 1876

The dance lesson | Edgar Degas | 1876

After the franco-prussian war, the artist spends a season in New Orleans, USA, where several members of his wealthy family had settled. But when Degas returns to Paris, he finds that his brother had invested all the money of the family in risky business which was unsuccessful. On the contrary: his brother was broke and left his family in bankruptcy.

To help his brother out of this situation, Degas decides to work for the first time. As painting was his hobby, he thinks that he can make money out of selling his Works. Short time after, he realizes that his paintings of ballerinas sell well and persist with the subject. Today, almost half of his works illustrate ballet or dancing scenes.

Today’s painting is maybe, one of his most recognized works. Here we see a scene inside a dance studio where we can see the teacher instructing his students. Degas, on the contrary of other impressionists, preferred the indoor scenes; and mocked those who preferred outdoors, like Monet. Another great difference he had was the framing of his works. Here we can take a look at the ballerinas in the foreground that are with their back to us, which makes the composition confuse (Leonardo wouldn’t have hesitated in putting all of them up front, like in his Last supper). At least at first glance. However, the artist was completely conscious on how to work his scene, so his choice for the framing is not random. The spontaneity that the canvas shows is, ironically, the product of a deep reflection by the artist. Degas himself will say that “no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing”.

That’s why his intention is clear: to insert the spectator inside the painting. The perspective he uses in The dance lesson, with the vantage point at the right, reinforces the feeling of dynamism, restlessness and movement between the spectator and the painting, achieving a masterpiece, not because of its greatness, but of its subtlety.  

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~ by Álvaro Mazzino on February 17, 2011.

2 Responses to “The dance lesson | Edgar Degas | 1876”

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