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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Ballet Dancers

Key facts
Full title Ballet Dancers
Artist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
Artist dates 1834 - 1917
Date made about 1890-1900
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 72.5 × 73 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1926
Inventory number NG4168
Location Room 44
Collection Main Collection
Ballet Dancers
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

The dancers in Degas’s painting are clouded in a mist of tulle, but two striking heads of red hair seem to anchor the blurred forms moving in space. Arms and legs curve and stretch, delicate white skirts toss and sway. The white tutus depicted here are the practice dress worn by the younger dancers at the Paris Opéra in the late nineteenth century.

Since they were small children, the dancers would have trained daily in the steps and positions that are the vocabulary of classical ballet, performing them over and over again. Degas repeats these characteristic movements in many of his pictures, perhaps not entirely for aesthetic reasons: repetition is exactly what the dancers do. This also seems connected to his own committed work ethic – he practised his craft tirelessly, making countless preparatory studies for every painting. It’s as if he recognised an affinity with these ethereal creatures whose life was dedicated to the hard, often grinding, practice and effort of producing any work of art that appears impromptu and effortless.

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