Degas familiarised himself with the practice of classical ballet through his representations of dancers in class and at rehearsal. As well as attending formal performances, he gained access to other areas behind the scenes at the Paris Opera.
These figures show Degas's skill at capturing the elegance and strength particular to ballerinas. Their discipline lingers in the postures and feet positioning as they stand, seemingly at ease, within this studio setting. The free and decorative application of paint creates complexity within the image, capturing a sense of the mystery surrounding this closed world. The placing of the figures off-centre opens up the surrounding space and the large mirror on the wall helps to make sense of the interior.
Degas excelled in depicting dancers in performance, rehearsal, waiting in the wings or, as here, at moments of ease. Characteristically, he chose an off-centre grouping with the dancers chatting in a corner of the rehearsal room. Part of a ballet skirt is reflected in the mirror behind. Degas often re-worked his designs and earlier pastels incorporate the same arrangement of figures. Here he worked with oil paint to establish the general outlines and reinforce certain details, blocked in colour with broad brush strokes and used his fingers, leaving fingerprints in the paint surface. He produced over 1500 images connected with the ballet.
Degas's celebrated paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture focus on aspects of Parisian modern life, including the racecourse and the ballet. His studies at the École des Beaux-Arts encouraged his interest in the human figure which remained central to his art. He travelled to Italy, where he had relatives, and where he continued to study the art of the past. The family portraits he painted there, however, also reflect his interest in capturing momentary appearances and unusual viewpoints. This he shared with the Impressionists, whom he met through Edouard Manet, on his return to Paris. Degas contributed to seven of the eight Impressionist group exhibitions.