Spotlight: Degas’ Ballet Dancers Waiting in the Wings’

Spotlight: Degas’ Ballet Dancers Waiting in the Wings’

After starting to study law upon his father’s request, Edgar Degas abandoned professional study in pursuit of painting to eventually become the prolific French painter we know today.

So inspired by Ingres, initially, Degas wanted to be a history painter but later changed direction combining his classical, academic training and his own vibrant expression. ‘Ballet Dancers Waiting in the Wings’ shows one example of his stylistic scenes of contemporary life that included dancers, entertainers and women..

While Degas was admiring a Velazquez painting in the Louvre in 1864 he met the painter Manet. This chance meeting over a classical picture changed the course of Degas’ style to what he is most known for today.

Along with Manet, Degas soon became a founding member of an alternative group of artists called the Impressionists who exhibited and met separately to the institutional art groups of the time. He earned enough money from his art that he could develop his own art collection, which he filled with classical art that he had admired.

In 1873, Degas’ father died and he returned to his hometown to learn his brother had amassed large debts. Degas sold his large art collection and his property to pay off the debts and uphold the family name. For the first time he now relied solely on the sale of his artwork. This dark period coincided with his most successful era of painting.

‘Ballet Dancers Waiting in the Wings’ (1890-1900; Saint Louis Art Museum) is expressive, soft and natural – typical of Degas’ later work. Instead of striking artistic poses, the girls are warming up their muscles in a realistic way. In fact, it likely depicts the same red-haired girl in different poses rather than a group of girls, acting as more of a study into human form than a completed piece. Indeed much of Degas’ later work was incomplete and over half of his works are of dancers – a subject readily available in theatrical Paris – and he is particularly renowned for depicting movement and energy through sketches and pastel drawings.