National Gallery of Art: Art for the Nation Edgar Degas' signature  
A Dance PortfolioThe Little Fourteen-Year-Old DancerThe Dancing LifeThe Painting Edgar Degas' signature Previous page Next page
The Dance Lesson Edgar Degas  
The Dance Lesson by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson, c. 1879, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon 1995.47.6


Before the Ballet by Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas, Before the Ballet, 1890/1892, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection 1942.9.19

Degas was interested in the natural cycles of activity and rest that he observed behind the scenes at the Opera House. In The Dance Lesson, he focused on these "in-between times" when the dancers, released briefly from their strenuous practice regimen, could relax. In Before the Ballet, he depicted the entire cycle of activity and rest in one painting. Degas greatly admired the young dancers’ athleticism and controlled energy; he tried to capture the tension inherent in the life of a working ballerina in his painting.

In Before the Ballet, at one end of the room dancers practice at the barre, while at the other end, they rest. In a few moments, they will likely change places.

Degas found this same tension in his observations of horses and jockeys. In his racing paintings he often concentrated on the time just before or after the race rather than on the race itself.

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