Edgar Degas – The Dance Lesson

Degas, E, 1879.  The dance lesson. [oil on canvas ]Available at: <http://www.nga.gov/feature/artnation/degas/thepainting_1.shtm&gt; [Accessed  13 December 2012].

Above is the painting ‘The dance lesson’ by French impressionist painter, Edgar Degas.  I’m such a huge fan of Degas’ work and impressionist style, mainly because I don’t think I could ever find it possible to paint like him.

keeping in mind my current theme;conflict in art and design, I can spot plenty of features that make this image so intriguing and haunting.

  • We can see that this composition is asymmetrical, with a long perspective. Degas has left a large amount blank space in the bottom right which gives viewers a greater sense of space and distance from the dancers.
  • With a splash of orange across her shawl our eye is almost instantly drawn to the resting dancer in the bottom left corner, sitting on the double bass.
  • The ballerina’s are not posing, smiling or performing. They seem to be ‘in between’ sessions, having a rest. They do not look graceful or elegant as we often think dancers are.
  • The girl in orange closest to us looks very bored and pretty exhausted, she is taking an almost ape like position on the floor, degas is reminding us of the hard work that goes into the art of the ballet, he is showing us a side of the dancers lives that we do not see, or think about.
  • When viewing this painting it’s almost like we have a backstage pass or we are a fly on the wall. Or are we seeing things from the view of another dancer? or the dance teacher?
  • Looking across the rest of the painting we can notice the dancers doing other things, one resting on a chair, one arranging the sash around her waist, in the background they are arranging their tutu’s and one sitting very un-gracefully with her legs spread apart and hands on her knees.

Degas has not shown these adolescent girls to be, sweet, delicate and innocent. He chose to give us a glimpse into a world where the girls tirelessly  practice over and over again untill they are so exhausted that they forget all about being poised and quiet, resting anywhere they can, any way they want to…on a chair, or even a musical instrument.

The more disturbing part of the painting is in the suggestion that these are not the little angels they appear to be on stage. Ballerina’s had a reputation for being sluts at the time Degas was painting in the late 19th Century,  The girls of the Royal ballet would often court older men in private or even be their mistresses in hopes of gaining sponsorship for their dance studies.


US National Gallery of Art, 2012. The Dance Lesson, 1878. [online] Available at: <http://www.nga.gov/feature/artnation/degas/thepainting_1.shtm>  [Accessed 13 December 2012 ].

taran888tula, 2004. Degas : The private ife of a masterpiece. Available at: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9FivoFcir4>%5BAccessed 13 December 2012%5D.


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