Even though Edgar Degas was most famous for his depictions of ballerinas, his reasoning behind the choice is often less known, as it focuses not on the spectacle and luxury of ballet, but instead on the raw, reality of the dancers’ lives, who often lived in impoverished conditions. Dedicating their whole lives and bodies to perfecting their art, the ballerinas of 19th century Paris were not the wealthy celebrities they might be thought of as, but instead starving artists much like Degas’ peers themselves, and it was one of the artist’s focuses to portray that with honesty. Beyond that, being the Impressionist that he was, Degas had found in the ballerinas a subject matter that enabled him to dedicate his efforts to find new ways to bring to the canvas the pretty and diaphanous fabrics, the precise but emotional movement, and the trained but exhausted stances held in their training.
In this pastel on paper, finished circa 1878, Degas focuses his attention on a young dancer taking a moment to fix the turquoise bow on her waist, which differentiates her from the other dancers who are practicing further in the background, absent-mindedly looking at her own feet while she does so. Now in possession of private collectors, the delicate piece is somewhere between a study and a painting, in that it has a fully realized composition, but is on a less than permanent media and is somewhat simplified.
The piece focuses on a ballerina, who is absent-mindedly fixing the bright turquoise ribbon that is tied around her waist. Even though it is a moment of pause, her stance is still very much deliberate, with her feet positioned ninety degrees apart, and her knees wholly extended, giving her a pose that implies a sudden burst of movement is near. In that way, the ballerina is never entirely resting, as her body was made for action, but merely taking a short break to replenish her strength for another practice session.
Behind her is the rest of the dance studio, and her practice partners, who also care for their apparel. Although the same care that was taken in the portrayal of the main character’s clothing does not extend to her practice partners, it is clear that they are made of the same material. The principal ballerina jumps out of the paper with her brightly colored accessories.
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