Degas, The Dance Class

Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker provide a description, historical perspective, and analysis of Degas’s The Dance Class.

Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, 1874, oil on canvas, (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

a group of practicing ballerinas, being observed by their Dance Master.

Figure 1. Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, oil on canvas, 1874 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas—who will later contract his name to Degas—is one of the most beloved artists of all time. When there is a Degas exhibition, it becomes a major event. Visitors crowd the galleries and the gift shops do a brisk business selling scarves, umbrellas, and notebooks printed with details from the artist’s paintings and drawings of ballerinas. And that’s the subject that people want. Yes, of course his bathers and race horses are popular, still it is his dancers that have captured the public’s imagination. By the way, Degas hated the fact that he was known as the “painter of dancers” Still, he did return to this theme throughout his career. I find it remarkable that while people see his extraordinary use of line, light, and composition they so often miss the less savory aspects of these images.