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Before the Performance

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Before the Performance About 1896 - 1898

Not on display

This is a relatively small canvas for Degas’s late work, and indeed, some of the dancers’ poses look back to his earlier ballet pictures from the 1870s. Here, a group of dancers are on stage preparing themselves for the impending performance: they practise their positions and one ballerina stoops to tie her shoe. The dancers are not individuals, but faceless memories of a scene he had once observed. The vivid colours are vibrant and unrealistic, evoking the surreal effects produced by the gas lights of the theatre. Pools of shadow on the large expanse of stage are also rather abstract, and it is clear that by the late 1890s, Degas was far less concerned with naturalism than in his former years. His treatment of the oil paint is very delicate, almost as if it were gouache.

Glossary Open


Usually refers to watercolour mixed with white pigment that retains the fluidity of the former but without the transparency. The term body-colour is also used.


Art based on the observation of objects rather than on theoretical or stylistic concerns.

Gouache, Naturalism


  • Acc. No. NG 2224
  • Medium Oil on paper laid on canvas
  • Size 47.60 x 62.50 cm (framed: 67.90 x 83.20 x 7.60 cm)
  • Credit Presented by Sir Alexander Maitland in memory of his wife Rosalind, 1960